Regardless of the sport, and regardless of whether we are athletes, fans, or spectators, sports can teach us a lesson about unity. While this may seem contradictory because a sports match divides two teams, remember that the game brings people together in one stadium or on one television program, united by the love for the sport and the spirit and hope that their favorite team will win.
The value of sports as a unifying force goes back to the origin of the Olympics, which has brought countries together since 776 B.C. The United Nations describes the importance of sports as a source of international peace:
“Sport as a universal language can be a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding by bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.
Sport programmes permit encounters on neutral territory and in an environment where aggression can be controlled, regulated and transformed and hence facilitates rapprochement and reconciliation between opposing parties.”
I have always enjoyed sports, as an athlete, as a fan, and as a spectator, depending on the sport. What I love about sports is that they help us escape from the concerns of daily life and they create a spirit powerful enough to encourage an entire community to support and celebrate their favorite team. As a high school cheerleader, I saw how cheerleading, alongside the football and basketball teams, brought my high school friends together, supporting the team at every win or loss. Then as a University of Michigan student, I saw how football season brought students together from across disciplines to promote school spirit and pride on the field. Now as a young professional living in the heart of Downtown Cleveland, I am surrounded by all Cleveland sports stadiums. I see sports as a community enabler, bringing Clevelanders together and reminding us to have pride in the place we call home.
Last week, I experienced this first hand at the Cleveland Cavaliers season opener party. The entire city was alive, with outdoor concerts throughout the city, people cheering and celebrating in the streets, and restaurants and bars blaring music and displaying the game on sparkling TV screens. The excitement revolved around the beginning of the basketball season, and the return of LeBron James, a basketball legend, especially in Cleveland. In honor of the season opener, Lebron James recorded a great video about the role of the Cavaliers, who should not only play for themselves, but also for the city of Cleveland.
While there is a lot of controversy about the role of professional athletes in society, we should remember that athletes represent our communities. They serve as ambassadors, symbolizing our community’s pride and dreams for the future. I have a lot of respect for LeBron James for taking this commitment personally and inspiring his team, the Cleveland community, and athletes as whole to support togetherness and not forget their higher purpose as athletes and community ambassadors.