The year 2020 is definitely the most adverse this Gen Xer, has seen in his lifetime. As a kid in the 80s and young adult in the 90s, the world was relatively carefree. Yes there were conflicts, hostage situations, wars and the AIDS epidemic, but I never really worried as I watched from a comfortable seat in the heartland. Life was good.
Even when our country was rocked by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the country came together and within months things were relatively normal again with the exception of restrictions at the airport.
But, 2020 – that’s an entirely different story, and I feel for my sons J.D. (11) and Luke (8) who have a lot more to worry about than their happy-go-lucky parents did. We are in the middle of a pandemic which has shut down the country and taken away so many things we enjoy and hold sacred such as family functions, church, sporting events, concerts, dining out and the list goes on. Many of us have had little interaction with anyone outside of our families since March. I work from home, go to the grocery store a few times a month and that is really about it. Other than some of our close neighbors on our street, I haven’t really had any outside interaction with anyone.
Frankly, it stinks. As we tell our boys, it’s something we must do, and we aren’t sure for how long. So far, we’ve done well.
Then, George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. It didn’t take long for the blatant racial injustice to spark outrage nationwide, as it should. Governors, mayors and police chiefs across the country agree this was a despicable act by bad cops, which has no excuse. Protests have ramped up this week, and while many began peacefully some turned violent.
We have seen that happen in Little Rock last weekend and this week.
The country was already tense with the restrictions that came with COVD-19. Some were upset the country wasn’t re-opening quickly enough and others were content to stay sheltered. It sparked debate and some hostility. When you couple that unrest with racial tensions that is a true powder keg ready explode – literally.
The country is as broken and divided as I have ever seen it. It’s troubling, sad and makes many of us feel helpless because there isn’t much we can as we feel guilty sitting in our backyards in suburbia.
While there are no quick fixes, I just wonder what would happen if we had sports in our lives? I know sports are not important in the grand scheme of our giant problems, but I remember how sports helped us heal in 2001. How President George Bush’s perfect strike during the first pitch at the World Series gave us strength and hope.
I just know how sports can pull us together. When Kobe Bryant died, it wasn’t just African-Americans who visited the Staples Center with memorials. Fans of all races – Los Angelinos came to pay their respects an icon that represented ALL in the city.
In 2016, when the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, revelers in Wrigleyville – of all races and creeds and sexual orientations, hugged, and even kissed, as the ‘’lovable losers” finally broke the curse.
And in Arkansas, it doesn’t matter if you are in Northwest Arkansas, Little Rock or the Delta; you encounter fans clad in Hog gear. Bonded by the big wins and tough losses and currently trying to stay positive during one of the worst football stretches in school history. Hogdom is a way of life for many border to border.
Multi-millionaire Warren Stephens is a regular at H.B’s Barbecue – the small restaurant nestled in a neighborhood in southwest Little Rock. Stephens told me it wasn’t unusual for him, a successful investment banker, to share a table with a construction worker. If you’ve been to H.B.’s you know space is tight and even VIPs such as Stephens don’t get a private table sometimes. That was fine with him, and he explained that the excellent barbecue and the Razorbacks, which was a popular topic of discussion, bridged whatever socioeconomic gap that might have been present.
So, that makes me wonder if the NCAA Tournament hadn’t been canceled, would March have been as depressing staying at home. What if Major League Baseball and the NBA Playoffs were in the background, would the tension be as high? If Arkansas was a making a run at a College World Series right now, would the state be closer?
It would be foolish to proclaim that sports are the cure all because they aren’t. It can’t cure a pandemic or erase hate, but it is a great distraction and morale booster. It’s easy to see without sports and other entertainment options; we have less hope and joy. Sports give us that. It is something to look forward to – an escape.
And we need that now more than ever.
Image courtesy of Arkansas Athletics Department