Column: A synthesis of sorts

Jake Pfeiffer, News Editor & Copy Editor

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I have absolutely no idea what to write for my final column of the year. 

“The Stat-us Quo” is one of my favorite things to write, but it’s always somewhat of a challenge to find a topic for each month. 

This column is, at its core, about pushing for positive progress in sports. Finding an issue that can truly be resolved is hard; not because they don’t exist, but simply because it’s so much easier to be negative about something.

So when I asked my friend for ideas on what to write, and they said, “I don’t know, maybe about why sports are a waste of time, money and space?”, I obviously couldn’t make that my topic. It is negative (rather aggressively, may I add), and misses the point of this column completely. 

But that statement got me thinking: why are sports important? What, ultimately, makes the change I argue for so vital? Finally, I had an idea. So this month, we’re going to diverge from the format and explore exactly why I believe sports are so important. A synthesis, of sorts, of my arguments from this year. 

I began this year in September with a “Unionization Proclamation” I argued a union for Minor League Baseball players doesn’t go far enough- teams need to shift their mindset to look at their players as investments, and spend more on them, providing livable wages and better nutrition and training programs in order to produce better quality players. 

This brings me to the first reason why sports are important: they provide a path to betterment for so many disadvantaged and marginalized individuals. Baseball, for so many living in poverty in the Caribbean, is a way out. Getting signed to a Minor League team provides a pathway to making millions of dollars, creating generational wealth out of generational poverty.

The way to get to that wealth is certainly difficult, especially when teams refuse to invest in their minor leagues. But that opportunity is real. 

If you can play a sport, you have a way out. It’s that simple. No matter the sport, no matter the league, if you can play, teams will come out of the woodwork to throw money at you.

Sports mean so much to so many because they have the power to dramatically shift one’s fate. 

I moved on in October to talk about injuries. “To a new injury culture” focused on the ways athletes overuse and abuse their bodies in the name of competition, and why they must stop.

So much of my argument here is about kids in youth sports who are pushed to “suck it up” and play through an injury, only to get hurt worse in the end.

If we end this culture of suffering, and ensure that health is always the highest priority in youth sports, one thing will become increasingly clear: sports are fun. 

Especially on the youth level, a healthy and supportive sports environment free from the “suck it up” mentality will ensure that kids have fun when they play, as they no longer have to play hurt.

This is the second reason why sports are important: they help us let loose, and allow us to have fun in a world full of distractions and stressors.

When the calendar turned to November, I wrote of a “Discipline Dilemma” surrounding collective punishment in sports. I argued that collective punishments divide teams, hurt players and altogether have no place in sports.

Dividing a team, in many ways, fundamentally violates the third reason why sports are so important: they help us develop relationships and social skills.

When a team is unified, sports help players learn how to work with others, and simply gives players the opportunity to build bonds and friendships that last a lifetime. 

The FIFA World Cup took Earth by storm in December, so of course I had to write about it. “FIFA Failings” called for FIFA to use the enormous power they wield over the international community to empower developing nations, rather than autocratic bullies.

The sheer political power of sports is the fourth reason why they are so important. The biggest sports organizations (FIFA, the NFL, the EFL, the Olympic Committee, etc.) all have the ability to do real good in the world.

FIFA, as I argued, can empower developing nations. The Olympics bring the world together on a cooperative effort, promoting peaceful international relations. These organizations can and do good in the world, on a truly colossal scale.

By giving advocates a platform, leagues can help power global movements. We saw this with the NFL and Colin Kaepernick, who used his platform as an NFL quarterback to advocate for racial justice, but the concept can certainly be applied elsewhere: Jackie Robinson, the first Black MLB player, was an icon of the civil rights movement, and is celebrated to this day. 

Sports, quite simply, can launch movements and serve as avenues for real change.

January was marked by one major incident in the sports world: the near death of Damar Hamlin on a football field. My column for the month asked “where’s the doctor?,” advocating for doctors’ presence on sports broadcasts to explain injuries like the freak heart-stoppage that happened to Hamlin.

The use of sports to educate viewers on medical concepts is just one way sports can be used to educate people. Sports can be used as a lens to learn about just about any concept. Psychology? The yips (a baseball term for nervousness-induced poor performance) are a great example for any Psych 101 classroom. Tactical thinking? The football field is a perfect place to learn about strategy and teamwork. 

Sports can take some of these big, hard to grasp concepts, and turn them into something that makes just a bit more sense. Perhaps this is the nerd in me, but I truly do believe sports are a hugely valuable way to learn about the world around us, in whatever way you could think of.

February marked a slightly different type of advocacy: a change in the way we think about sports stadiums. My plan for “Saving Soldier” Field was, quite simply, to leave it alone.

Soldier Field for so long has brought people together. That waste of space my friend spoke of isn’t a waste at all: stadiums, arenas and fields provide spaces for communities to form. These spaces bring so many different types of people into one place, tying them to a sport, to a team, to a building, making them feel a part of something larger than themselves. The communities that form in and around stadiums may not be permanent, but they nonetheless connect people in a way that few other places truly can.

In March tackled the World Baseball Classic, calling for the WBC to make changes in order to better promote baseball as an international game. Baseball, I said, was “America’s game no more.”

Sports, quite simply, bring the world together. When the WBC becomes a showcase of the world of baseball, international connections are formed. Even in competition, ties of sport are powerful. Mutual fandom brings people from across the world together, tying individuals together yet again in a way that few else can.

The Stat-us Quo took the month off in April, finally bringing us back to the here and now. 

Sports are powerful. They can bring people together. Educate. Empower. They provide outlets for joy and expression. Sports are beautiful. They’re spectacular. They can take your breath away. 

Sure, they have their flaws, but addressing them will only make the games we love even more impactful. 

Authoring The Stat-us Quo for the past nine months has helped me better understand the vitality of sports, and better appreciate just how important they truly are. 

I only hope that my readers can say the same.