Sports bring peo­ple, fam­i­lies to­gether

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Matthew Pauley Matthew Pauley is an eq­uity re­search as­so­ciate with Jan­ney Mont­gomery Scott; his email is mrp2476@gmail.com.

I am a Bal­ti­more sports fan. I put my heart and soul into our teams. I’ve al­lowed my fa­nati­cism to in­flu­ence — even dic­tate — ma­jor life de­ci­sions and have in­vested more time and money into the pas­time than I care to share. I’ve shed tears over men in pur­ple uni­forms who are com­plete strangers to me. The weight of a Sun­day loss hurts like hell, and when it hap­pens on the big­gest stage, the pain sticks. Re­mem­ber when Lee Evans dropped that catch dur­ing the 2012 AFC Cham­pi­onship game?

I’m that big a fan — I might even care more than the play­ers. So when some­one says “sports don’t mat­ter,” I must re­spect­fully dis­agree. They ab­so­lutely mat­ter, and here’s why:

Tra­di­tion. Base­ball is Amer­ica’s pas­time. Sun­days were made for foot­ball. Mary­land does crab cakes and foot­ball, we shout “O” dur­ing the na­tional an­them. Bal­ti­more has pur­ple Fri­day. My fam­ily watches foot­ball on Thanks­giv­ing; yours prob­a­bly does too. This stuff is fun, and these tra­di­tions help cast the foun­da­tion of our fam­i­lies, friend­ships and so­ci­ety. A friend of mine was born and raised in North Carolina — Pan­thers ter­ri­tory, but he’s a Cow­boys fan be­cause of his fa­ther. Ask any sports fan whose af­fil­i­a­tion doesn’t fit the mold and you’re likely to get a re­hearsed fam­ily ex­pla­na­tion that will make per­fect sense even if it shouldn’t.

Hap­pi­ness. The next game might be the one pos­i­tive in an oth­er­wise mis­er­able week. In 2006, the NewOr­leans Saints gave a spark to a des­per­ate city rav­aged by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Peo­ple took a break from re­build­ing their lives and cel­e­brated a Saints win. In 2013, the city of Bos­ton and peo­ple around the na­tion ral­lied around the Red Sox af­ter the marathon bomb­ing there that year; the team went on to win the cham­pi­onship. Peo­ple turned to those teams as a refuge. Sports are all about mo­ments, and if a game can cheer you up, even for just a sec­ond, that’s im­por­tant.

Unity. Sports bring peo­ple to­gether across race, re­li­gion, gen­der, ge­og­ra­phy, po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, age and any other dif­fer­ence you can name — none of which will mat­ter at 1 p.m. on Sun­day. If we are sit­ting to­gether in match­ing pur­ple when Joe Flacco finds Steve Smith for a 40 yard TD, we will share high fives or chest bumps or hugs or awk­ward dance moves. Bald men will have their heads rubbed by the cou­ple sit­ting be­hind them, who they just met five min­utes ago but have since be­come close friends with. I’ve shared some of the hap­pier mo­ments of my life with com­plete strangers and have con­nected with peo­ple I would have oth­er­wise never spo­ken to be­cause of sports. Sports are a unit­ing force, de­void of prej­u­dice. Sports are for ev­ery­one.

Many of my life-shap­ing ex­pe­ri­ences have come from sports, and I’ll cher­ish those spe­cial mo­ments for­ever. I took my girl­friend to an Ori­oles game on our first date. I got to cel­e­brate the Terps beat­ing Iowa, then No. 3, a few rows be­hind the stu­dent sec­tion with my grand­fa­ther; the smile stretched across his face made that mo­ment un­for­get­table. I get goose bumps think­ing about the mile-high mir­a­cle pass from Joe Flacco to Ja­coby Jones. I’ll tell my grand­kids about the time Ja­mal Lewis rushed for 295 yards. The hap­pi­est place I have ever been was Cam­den Yards on the night of Del­mon Young’s game-win­ning dou­ble in the Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

These mo­ments make it worth every tear, scream, smashed ob­ject and ex­tra pitcher of beer I bought to wash it all down. Sports al­low us to be the most pas­sion­ate, emo­tional, opin­ion­ated, so­cial and vul­ner­a­ble ver­sions of our­selves. Those of you who think “it’s just a game” don’t know what you’re miss­ing.

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