As leaves begin to fall and a soft wind breathes through the chainlink fence, people from across a sleepy town in northeast South Dakota gather in a small, aging stadium for the first home football game of the season. Local fans, cocooned in tie-blankets, cheer on the team that’s been practicing since early August.
For some, this place serves only as an overwatered stretch of grass that would better serve as extra farmland. But for many, this battleground serves as common ground—a place where people of different races, faiths and political ideals can cheer together for the hometown heroes.
In a country that’s constantly divided by social class structures and political lines, sports remain as a cornerstone in bringing people of diverse backgrounds together. America’s favorite past time doesn’t require a college degree or specific religious affiliation for entrance only a love for the game and healthy competition.
These sports serve as one of the few mediums that competitors and fans can bond over as one entity while still being associated with a specific team.
While Vikings and Falcons fans might taunt each other about the upcoming game on Sunday, they’ll still meet at the local bar to watch the game together, splitting the tab down the middle.
These interactions might seem simplistic on the surface, but they contain major real world applicability.
Players dealing with conflict on the field can translate their skills to deal with problems in school and home lives. They learn to change and mold their physical capacities, and learn to use those same skills in their personal lives.
And these traits don’t stop at the US border. The Olympics, a worldwide competition, brings together athletes and fans from across the world once every two years to compete—not for fame or glory, but for national pride.
This biannual event often provides a reflection of state and strength of humanity to an audience of millions. Whether that include Jesse Owens winning four gold medals as a black athlete in Nazi Germany, or North and South Korea marching together under a unified flag in the 2000s Olympics. Sports allow humanity to express themselves without retaliation or major consequences off the scoreboard.
As the sports editor for The Mirror, I’ve seen these traits first-hand during interviews and conversations with student athletes on campus. The amount of pride is astounding, but their sense of humility is what keeps me writing.
Athletes don’t perform for the individual accolades, but for their teammates and larger community. They learn to be part of an entity greater than themselves, and want to further that success both on and off the field. Fans exist as an extension of this entity, winning and losing with the team, learning how to deal with loss and celebrating the major wins.
These trials prepare those involved for greater experiences in their communities and countries. Sports have the capability to bring families and nations together, without the risk of tearing them apart—because after all, it’s ‘just a game’.