Someone once asked me if I believe in God.
For me, separate and apart from what I’ve been taught to believe the Bible says and what I practice as a member of my synagogue, I have some other thoughts about “What is God?”
One of the ways I define ‘God’ is how, individually and collectively, we put good out into the world, and how that counteracts the bad and evil out there. (I did say one of the ways I define ‘God;’ I know, some of you are thinking, “Aww, how touchy-feely and granola-crunchy of you, HBH!” But stay with me, this isn’t really an essay about religion.)
This past week in sports we’ve seen both — the good and the bad.
You may have heard about a recent, post-season . The game was ended early after a heated dispute broke out between Wilton coaches and the game’s umpire. A part of the clash – albeit only 30 seconds – was captured on video, which went viral (48,000-plus views so far) after being sent to the press, Patch included.
(I can hear you already — Dangerous water to tread into, HBH! Don’t go there—the topic of Sports with a capital ‘S’ is hallowed ground in Wilton!)
What I’ve read in , both about the coaches’ conduct and between commenters themselves, is crazy—they’re full of contradictions, insults, recriminations and judgment. Here are just a few of the comment gems, which I’m paraphrasing but you’ll get the gist:
“The coaches behaved abysmally—they embarrassed our town and set an awful example for the kids!” “The umpire made several bad calls and the coaches were provoked!” “I’d have them coach my kids any day!” “Those coaches should step down!” “Who are you to judge!” “This is typical of Wilton—all sports, no class!” “Wilton women are Robo-moms!” “You’re a b*@#%!”
Whoa! How did we deteriorate that far in 100 or so comments (as of press time)?
I wasn’t at the game in Oxford. I don’t know who the coaches are. I’m not assigning blame. I don’t know exactly what happened, and I can’t tell for sure just from the half-minute video clip alone — understandably, we have to concede that some stuff happened before the camera was turned on, and some other stuff happened after it was turned off, and we’ll probably never know for sure the true story of what really, actually did happen.
But you know what did seem to have happened, underneath it all? Sportsmanship, compassion, problem-solving, neighborliness, community, humanity and reason – from all sides – went out the window, and kept on going, until reason was gone, intending never to return.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve heard this story, and for sure it’s won’t be the last time it will happen on the field either.
But thankfully, we have another playing field to watch to counterbalance what Wilton just experienced — the playing field in London where the world’s eyes are focused.
What other time in everyday life does the world come together like it does during the Olympics? Where else would you have people from Israel and Iran, from Pakistan and India, from Sudan, Syria and Mali, and many other countries currently involved in conflict and war, in one place? For the most part, they set aside their differences under a code of sportsmanship that all the athletes pledge to follow in taking the Olympic oath:
"In the name of all competitors, I promise we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the spirit of true sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."
I know, I know, I’m not so naïve as to think that there are never any disputes or conflicts during the Games. Sometimes sportsmanship takes a direct hit there, too. But all the same, the Olympics provides us with an opportunity to look at sport through a prism of honor, dedication, hard work and team spirit, like none other we see elsewhere.
Even when there is disappointment at the Olympics — like yesterday’s shocking result in women’s gymnastics, which some thought unfairly prevented reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber of the U.S. from advancing to the all-around women’s finals — the athletic spirit and honor of the Games trump all else, and decorum rules in the end. To see it in action all you had to do was watch Wieber’s post-event interview with NBC, as she wiped away the tears to gracefully speak in support of her teammates that did advance.
There is something so ideal and pure about the Olympic level of competitive sport that it’s almost a perfect answer to what went down in Oxford that day, especially for those who talk of showing children the example of what it means to be a good sport in sports.
Whatever did happen in Oxford and has since continued on in the resulting, insulting battle of post-game punditry has completely missed the spirit of what sport is supposed to be. I don’t know who was right or who was wrong, but it certainly wasn’t ideal or pure.
Life isn’t ever completely ideal or pure. It’s never simply black and white, and you can rarely boil things down to good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. So I hope you’ll excuse my impulse to link sports and God – at least in the way I’m choosing to define God – in this piece.
Because, no matter how anyone chooses to define ‘God,’ I guess I’d just like to Thank God that at this very moment, for a little bit, we have the example of Olympic spirit to point to as something we can learn from and to which we can aspire.