I consider myself somewhat intelligent and, if not worldly, at least interested. I graduated from Princeton, worked on Wall Street during the financial meltdown, spent a year working NFL salary caps, volunteered in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, drank Miller High Life’s until 3 a.m. with an 80-year old blues singer sporting a slick straw hat, worked in AIDS shelters, and just finished writing a book. I might be excitable and grumpy when life’s interruptions bust my routines, but I’m typically reasonable. Yet today I’m exhilarated, ecstatic, and elated because LeBron James – someone I’ve never met and will never know – has returned to Cleveland.
LeBron has no influence over my beliefs or values. LeBron doesn’t affect my capacity for giving or willingness to serve others. These virtues, the ones that hold real worth, are my own. Still, I choked back tears reading LeBron’s letter and I’ve watched a roundup of “I’m Coming Home” videos.
Today, I am irrationally happy.
And this joy is what makes sports great. This feeling is why sports matter.
Sports matter because they don’t make sense, because we can’t always explain them. Sports stir exuberance and elicit impossible heartache. They offer a distraction, an escape, and a way for men to express the emotions our fragile masculine ethos might otherwise not permit.
Sports unify; they connect; they strengthen bonds – like the inseparable one forged between a father most comfortable preaching from the pulpit of the playing field and a son who won’t forget the lessons in sacrifice and commitment he learned from his dad during those game day sermons.
Sports matter because, in our oft-individualized society, they let us feel the pleasure of belonging to a team. Sports rekindle our dreams and ignite our memories of wanting to be like Mike on the starry playgrounds of adolescence. Sports let grown men become kids again.
Sports matter because they give us hope – hope that a player, team, city, and region will raise not just a banner declaring us champions, but that our work will inspire positive change along the way.
I will wake up tomorrow morning and drink my coffee, attend my niece’s birthday party, and relax with a good book. My routines will not change – not tomorrow, the next day, or any day in the future.
But my step will have more bounce, my cackle will pack more punch, and my smile will have more sparkle because LeBron said yes to Cleveland.
My emotions aren’t rational, and my enthusiasm might be silly. But today reminded me why sports mater.
That makes me happy.