Esports Sports

SOAPBOX: The Healing Power of Sports

Sports

Sports and esports impact us in such a peculiar way. On the surface level, watching our favorite sports being played at the professional level doesn’t seem like something that should be that significant in our day-to-day lives. And yet, sports manage to do just that. Sure – in the moment, watching professional sports can provide entertainment and excitement in the moment, but in the long term, engaging in sports can enrich our lives and the culture we find ourselves in.

Sports provide an escape, a community, a passion. Engaging in sports allow us to connect with people that have our shared interest of sports, creating opportunities to create deeper connections with one another. The hype, the camaraderie, even the heartbreaks that sports can provide – all of it entices people, making way for the potential to create unforgettable memories among those that share interest in any given sport.

The purpose of this article is to share some of the stories where sports became more than just sports. For the writers featured here, sports have been a healer or an inspiration. These are times when they spoke to us and made us believe, hope, and mend.

Ben Hendricks – Head of Video Production/Lead NBA Writer

On Sunday, August 12, at approximately 8:30pm ET, my grandfather passed away.

Just a few hours after that, pinch hitter David Bote stepped up to the plate at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were down 0-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Bote dug in and earned a 2-2 count. Down to their last strike, Nationals relief pitcher Ryan Madson missed his spot low, and Bote took advantage.

He cranked a 442-foot grand slam to center field. Game over.

Sports
Bote flipped his bat directly after he hit the grand slam. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)

It’s hard to explain the fervor with which (most of) my family roots for the Cubbies. Suffice to say, they put the “fan” in “fanatic” when it comes to the North Siders. We had all gone our separate ways by the time the last pitch was thrown. I couldn’t even tell you which ones of us were still up to watch it, as most of us had spent the better part of 48 hours in the ICU waiting room.

What I can tell you is how we all felt when we received the news through one channel or another. Without even asking any of them, I knew they were as overwhelmed as I was. We were overcome with a certain bittersweet feeling that can only be experienced when one is happy, but knows they shouldn’t be.

Either way, baseball had our back that night. As if it knew we needed a respite, however brief, from the misery of losing our family’s undisputed patriarch.

But that’s what life is about. It’s about taking the good with the bad and not taking anything for granted. Appreciating what the universe gives you, and reveling in the moments that make you realize that life is worth living.

From now on, whenever someone who doesn’t understand my love of sports asks me why I would waste my time watching others play a game, I will have a story for them.

As one of our fellow writers texted me, moments after the ball left the yard, “Baseball always knows”.

Dylan Streibig – Senior NFL/Tennis Writer

I was born with Cerebral Palsy and have always needed a walker and/or wheelchair. Constant pain is just part of my existence. But sports have always been an escape for me. My earliest recollection of this was the fall of 1998.

In my childhood, I had surgeries and hospital stays blocked off on the calendar the same way other people have vacations marked off.

Just before Christmas in ’98, I was in the hospital recovering from a surgery in orange and blue striped casts from the waist down in honor of my beloved Denver Broncos. I was watching the Broncos facing against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football, and it wasn’t going well for me.

Apparently, my displeasure was so loud, the nurses thought I was in distress, worried enough that they came running in. My mom explained that it was “just the football game” and I was medically okay. Unless those nurses could change the score, the displeasure wasn’t going to change and my Mom knew it.

The Broncos lost that game, but won the Super Bowl that year.

Katrina Weil – Overwatch Writer

In my final year of college, as a Mathematics and Education student, I completed my degree by student teaching in a local high school. This proved to be one of the most strenuous and drainings experience of my life, as I approach my endeavors with love and, frankly, too much sensitivity. This naive mindset and approach was met with so much disdain, hurt, and on some days, aggression.

As my personal and professional life went through immense challenges, I found a source of relief and joy in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. Gaming had always been a stress-reliever during the more difficult times while pursuing my degree, but being able to support a team week after week gave me something to look forward to and lean on after painful days.

Sports
Houston Outlaws fans celebrate after an Overwatch League match win. (Photo by FANTOM)

Every night, I would either watch the Overwatch League or study and analyze previous matches. I would apply my academic interest, which gave me a sense of fulfillment and purpose, but more importantly, I was able to find a community in the time where I felt most alone. I joined fan discords, ultimately finding ‘Rally to We!’, a female and LGBT friendly server.

The Overwatch League not only gave me respite from stress and loneliness, but it gave me a group of players to cheer for, and let me find a sense of belonging I had never experienced before. The friends I have made have inspired me to chase my dreams and remember my self-worth. I am the luckiest person to have been healed by esports, and hope that I can give back to this community that provided me a light at the end of a tunnel.

Jay Louden – NBA/Soccer Writer

A high school classmate of mine was a pretty good wide receiver. During senior year, his grandfather fell ill with something terminal, I can’t remember exactly with what exactly.

It was the last game of the season and his high school career. One of his family members rolled his grandpa’s wheelchair into the back of the end zone to watch him play.

It was the fourth quarter. Our quarterback was given a play to run out the clock at their opponents’ 25-yard line. Instead, he called an audible in the huddle. He told my classmate, “go get it.” The quarterback threw a perfect pass to him for a touchdown, right in front of his grandpa.

He passed away the following week, but one of his final memories was of watching his grandson catch the final touchdown of his high school career.

Anthony Olivette – NHL writer

Growing up in D.C. and watching the Washington Capitals had been a big part of of my life and development as a hockey player. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout my years, but not as much as my father. My dad attended the first-ever franchise game in 1974 against the Los Angeles Kings. That same year, the Capitals recorded an 8-67-5 record (the worst in NHL history). If you think the Cleveland Browns are bad, look at the 1974-1975 expansion season from the Capitals. As the years went on, the Capitals got better, but could never reach a Stanley Cup Final until 1998, when they got swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

It all changed when the Capitals drafted Alex Ovechkin first overall in 2004. The young Russian brought in new fans and interest towards the sport of hockey in the DMV. He even revitalized the Penguins rivalry, and formed a Larry Bird-Magic Johnson type of relationship with Sidney Crosby. During the Ovechkin era, the Capitals struggled to get through the second-round of the playoffs. Some fans even gave up hope of Ovechkin ever winning the Stanley Cup.

When the 2018 playoffs started, a lot of us were expecting the same result – not getting through the second round. But that didn’t happen.

When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the series-winning goal against the Penguins, there was light at the end of the tunnel. We nervously got through seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998. Next, the Caps faced the best expansion team in sports history, the Vegas Golden Knights.

Everyone in D.C. turned into a big, loving family. Everyone came together and supported the Capitals to a point were even Republicans and Democrats were getting along. This was proof of how sports impacts our society and our city.

When the Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup, the District turned into a week-long party. My buddies and I were going nuts at Mister Days while the rest of D.C. cheered.

Sports
Ovechkin and Backstrom hoist the Stanley Cup after defeating the Golden Knights in five games. (Photo by NBC Sports Washington)

The first person I thought of was my father. After all these years, he finally got to witness his beloved team win their first Stanley Cup. In 2016, he lost his wife (my mother) to pancreatic cancer.

When I asked him how he felt, he said, “I was a little depressed. After 44 years, it came true and I felt like, ‘what is there to look forward to in hockey?’ I also thought about all the people in my life who were around in the last 44 years that aren’t here anymore. Don’t get me wrong – I was still ecstatic beyond belief.“

That quote made me realize that not everyone feels the same after moments like these. I want to thank that man for never giving up on me. He taught me how to be a loyal Capitals fan and a good man. I would never replace any man to be my father.

No one is a bigger Capitals fan than he is. I’m happy that he introduced me to hockey and attended every game. This is just one of many reasons why I love sports, hockey, the Caps, and my father.

Special Thanks to our contributing authors featured in this article for sharing their stories.

Featured image by Jason Miller/Getty Images

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