SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine if the Utah Jazz were still alive in this season’s NBA playoffs, last weekend playing a home game in the Western Conference finals.
The city and extended area would have been alive, so to speak, bringing together different groups engaged in passionately rooting for their favorite team. In our community, regardless of origin, in relation to sports the Jazz are the great unifier.
In a perfect world, if the Jazz were still vying for an NBA championship, maybe the scene in downtown last Saturday night would have played out differently. Instead, in light of peaceful protests, part of the evening turned ugly on many different levels.
We live in anything but a perfect world. This much is obvious.
Justifiably outraged at the death of George Floyd literally at the knee of a Minnesota police officer, protests occurred throughout the country over racism and brutality against African Americans. Some of those protests turned violent in the streets, as fires raged and looters ransacked businesses.
Here we are, again, attempting to find common ground and understanding. Maybe sports can play a small part.
“Sports is really the unifying cause. It is really only one of the places where regardless of your race, regardless of your sex, when you talk women’s sports also, where you can put all those different people in a locker room and they learn to get along,” said Utah receivers coach Guy Holliday in an interview on The Zone Sports Network.
“They learn because they’re fighting for one cause. Now, they all live their separate lives, which we understand, but there’s a point where I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”
Seven weeks ago, in this space, I wrote a column centered on the viewpoint that sports mattered more than ever as the country and the world grappled with the coronavirus. The point was sports, particularly on television at the professional and college level, provide, at the least, a welcomed distraction from the daily realities of life.
As expected, based on 35 years of experience in the media, there was plenty of push back. Opinion pieces, as they are designed to do, generate varied perspectives and a wide spectrum of emotions.
Many of the responses stated that sports during a pandemic are rendered virtually meaningless. In the bigger picture, they argued, nobody needs games to survive.
As predictable as the feedback was, many missed the point. Even compared to only two months ago, our society desperately needs sports back at all levels.
Draw away from the results of sports, leaving behind the outcomes of the games. Winning and losing is not the issue, as it was never intended.
In addition to the entertainment value, sports offer an insight on bringing different groups together. Successful teams usually feature players from diverse backgrounds, often from around the world, intent on achieving the same goal.
“Those qualities that we learn as small children growing up in our homes or churches or whatever, those are the things that are missing in our world right now. It is problematic and it is painful to see the insensitivity toward others of color or gender or whatever it is,” former BYU basketball coach Steve Cleveland said on The Zone Sports Network.
“The one thing that sports do, no matter what color they are, whatever their background is, whatever their economic (or) financial situation is, they’re together. That’s always been there.”
Athletes also take on the roles of idols, especially among youth, and as such can hold a heavy amount of adoration. Used properly, these figures have the awesome opportunity to influence for the benefit of us all.
Even if we disagree, responsible points of view can cause us to look beyond ourselves.
“I do believe that sport is a good thing, but it can’t be just to get our mind off of it. They have to have a voice. I think our athletes and our coaches and community leaders have to have a voice in this, and it needs to be heard. I think that offends some people; they get uncomfortable with that,” Cleveland said.
“Hey, we’re way past getting uncomfortable. We’ve been mistreating people in this country for a long, long time. Who do young people look to — they look to their athletes, they look to people that are in the public eye. When someone can get in the public eye and speak intelligently about how we should treat each other, I think that’s a really, really good thing."