I was struck recently by the following column written by the gentleman-scholar John Ettinger on why he loves sports. Check out the full article here. I love his description of sports as the perfect platform for great narrative and great story-telling:
For me, being a sports fan is about getting lost in stories. When you think about it, the wide world of sports is the perfect arena for narrative. These narratives exist in a wonderfully simple universe bound and defined by the rules of a silly game. Our rooting interests are developed so arbitrarily and yet leave us with clear protagonists and villains — there is no confusing good and evil.John goes on to discuss how stories exist everywhere in sports, and you come across more and more the deeper you dig. Though much of America has heard of the Boise St. upset over Oklahoma, only a relatively small number of individuals know the story of Johnny Vandeventer's 4:02 anchor leg in the DMR at the 2011 Indoor Heps meet. Johnny's performance surpasses, at least in my mind, both the improbability and inspiration of any other sports story I have ever known. However, I recognize that this is because I happen to be privy to all the tiny, minute details that make any tale worth telling.
If you had simply watched the 2011 Heps DMR without knowing any of the story, you would have seen a Yale runner racing hard but falling short (after all, he finished 2nd behind Princeton). It wasn't until days after Johnny crossed the line that most people began to appreciate his performance for what it meant.(see http://hepstrack.com/blog/2011/03/03/going-for-broke/). As this heps track author notes, "It happened right in front of me and I didn't even know what was unfolding."
As impressed and inspired as I am by Johnny's performance (I still keep an autographed newspaper clipping of the race on my wall), I have no doubt that other equally, or perhaps even more incredible performances occur every year in all areas of sport. Some are broadcast on ESPN, others get written about in school newspapers and meaningless blogs, and still others, unfortunately, must get lost entirely to all but a select one or two individuals who know enough of the story's details to appreciate it's meaning. But if we're lucky, these individuals will see the importance in telling their story to others; or, at the very least, they will send a quick email to someone like John Ettinger who would probably relish the opportunity to tell a sports story that deserves to be told.