"Sports are not frivolous, and not without substance. They speak directly to the most basic needs and feelings that we as humans have. The need to come together, socialize, to know each other. The need to compete with each other, to prove our worth and measure ourselves as men and women. They speak to our need to go beyond the call of duty and persevere above all possible opposition. We as humans always strive to go beyond what is possible, and sports are a reflection of that. We struggle to finish what we set out to do, we fight and compete for an esoteric ideal that unites a nation, and we challenge ourselves to go outside our comfort zone to honor others."
- Nick Petrilli
A week ago, nearing the end of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, the North Carolina State Wolfpack were told, on live television via Greg Gumbel, they were the last team in the field of 68. They erupted into fervent cheer and celebration, the likes of which have rarely been seen by a team that had simply been granted entrance into a playoff. And I smiled.
Then, much of the country watched as NC State upset both San Diego State and Georgetown, doing so in rather dramatic fashion, to reach the Sweet Sixteen in Mark Gottfried's first year as head coach. And I smiled.
It wasn't because of the end result of a basketball game that I smiled, though. Nor was it due to the remarkable turnaround orchestrated by Mark Gottfried this season, or because his players overcame at the most crucial of times. I smiled because of Braveheart, and Scandanavia, and living life adventurously. And if that makes no sense to you - don't worry, it shouldn't. I smiled because NC State, a school I've never even visited, nor do I have any affiliation towards, reminds me of rekindled friendships, of the occasional bar rendezvous made memorable by the unlikeliest of circumstances.
To cheer for a team in sports appears to be such a thankless infatuation on the periphery. And it mostly is - games, seasons, championships won and lost (mostly lost), causing psychological pain to those on the conquered end, and a fleeting period of ecstasy for those basking in a victory they didn't even partake in. And, in time, both feelings will fade, and people will once again take up arms for their hand-picked (or unwittingly inherited) group of champions. But for those fleeting moments that matter -- truly matter -- in the sporting world, they speak to human nature, and our collective desire to come together for a single united cause, to connect with people we have not and will never again meet, to know a part of another's life intimately without knowing that person at all. We love sports because they make us part of something greater than ourselves, because they remind us of good times long since passed and prepare us for bad times yet to come.
There are occurrences, however, that test the very fabric of sports. On the afternoon of March 17th, a talented, and by all accounts exceptional, young man by the name of Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch in the middle of a FA Cup tilt between Tottenham and Bolton. He suffered an apparent heart attack, and his heart had stopped beating on its own for two hours' time. It is in these most dire of incidents when we attempt to individually re-evaluate what is important, and some of us, spurred on by the naysayers and antagonists, come to the realization that sports simply does not fall into that category. And, truly, sports doesn't matter, nor should it. But, then, sports really does matter, and it should.
You see, sports don't matter because it's just a ball and a hoop, or a net, or a bat. Sports aren't just that, though; there's so much more to sports than a ball and a hoop, or a net, or a bat. There is pride, and glory, and agony, and friends, and enemies, and love, and hatred. In sports, there is that one undefinable characteristic that is so eminently definable; sports is, simply put, a microcosm of who we are. 'Sports' is a representation of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to succeed in the face of those who doubt. 'Sports' is our will to fight, our desire to succeed, our need to try, just try, no matter what the detractors may suggest. 'Sports' is a symbolism of life, and what it means to live it to the fullest.
Right now, Fabrice Muamba is in a battle for his. Even though a great many of you have likely never heard of him, or even the club he is a part of, please, keep him in your thoughts. Remember that, at the end of the day, we are all on the same team. While our allegiances to particular players are sometimes fickle, our humanity remains. When Fabrice Muamba recovers from his ailment, when he steps back on the pitch, we will all be fans of his. Every last one of us.
I have given myself every reason to cheer for Michigan State, and when Draymond Green's smile flashes across the television screen Thursday night, I will vociferously (and borderline-insanely) root on the Green and White. When training camp finds itself in full swing, I will no doubt visit Lehigh University to pay homage to our collection of green-clad Philadelphian (in spirit, at least) warriors. I have no reason to cheer for North Carolina State, but I can assure you of this; every time I see them succeed, thoughts that have no correlation to sports will pass through my mind - I will simply remember a night well spent. And I will smile.
C'est la vie.
[UPDATE: Fabrice is now breathing on his own and can recognize family members – both great signs for progress. I can’t wait to see you back out on the pitch, and celebrate with everyone else.]