As with religion, sports has of late become politicized as the issue of kneeling for the Star Spangled banner has become a matter discussed and debated by politicians. This, I suppose, is really nothing new. Sports has always had the potential for political statement in part because sports has been a venue in which otherwise suppressed minorities have been able to succeed. From Jesse Owens to Billy Mills to Henry Aaron to Billie Jean King, sports has been a venue in which success sometimes carried with it a political message.
That’s as it should be. But it is important that we not lose the poetry as we ponder the political impact of sports. Beyond that, some sporting events become moments of wonder whereby I have sensed the presence of a God rejoicing not so much in the victory but in the joyful sensual moment. Here are some personal favorites, all of which I witnessed on television. To me, some of these moments had political significance. All were beautiful.
- Secretariat at Belmont Stakes 1973. I am not a big horse racing fan; however, the manner in which the great horse Secretariat ran this race is truly wondrous. To see that animal run with what I can only call joyful abandon was and is quite moving. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V18ui3Rtjz4
- Bill Mazeroski and the 1960 World Series. Baseball has always been my favorite sport. It has even played a role in my recovery, providing me with some which needed enthusiasm in the early days of sobriety. In 1960 the Pittsburgh Pirates were huge underdogs to the much-hated Yankees. Yet the Pirates forced a seventh game, the ending of which was a glorious moment for a 12 year old boy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65Og0gUKfvc&t=89s
- Henry Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s record. I liked Babe Ruth when I was growing up. Yet starting in the late 50s I began to pay attention to Henry Aaron, a gifted member of my favorite team at that time, the Milwaukee Braves. And so I found myself in 1974 hoping to see Henry break babe Ruth’s record and put an end to the racist threats he had endured. The great announcer Vin Scully correctly noted the political impact of that moment. And, yes, in my opinion he is the true homerun champion
4. Mohammed Ali vs. George Foreman. Yes I know. Boxing is violent. Many sports are. I had watched Ali for years, amazed by his lighting fist and his Ali shuffle. In this championship fight against George Foreman, Ali introduced a new technique — the rope-a-dope in which he lay on the ropes until Foreman punched himself out then came of the ropes in the 8th round and knocked Foreman out. Ali as much as any athlete was political but was also a victim of politics, losing some of his prime years because of being banned from boxing for his stance against the Viet Nam War
5. Finally, as everyone knows, I am a committed Redsox fan and was one years before they became successful. Thus 2004 was and is in many ways the most wondrous of my wonderful memories. After years of frustration they won the Series. But the key moment occurred in the AL playoff against the hated Yankees. Down 3 games to 0, the Redsox were close to elimination when Kevin Millar drew a walk. What followed was the turning point from which the Redsox won 4 in a row against the Yankees then made short order of the Cardinals. Here is Dave Roberts and The Steal!
Reflections: Any sports memories that are precious to you?
My sports memory that is precious to me is not from professional sports but from a High School basketball game. My son attends Punahou School in Hawaii where President Obama graduated. Although there are students there who come from modest means such as the former president and my son, most of the students come from wealthy families and the school’s endowment is immense. I attended a basketball game where Punahou played Kahuku which is a very economically disadvantaged school. The game was close and it was difficult for me to decide which side to root for. Punahou had given my son an opportunity which would not likely result in large donations for them. On the other hand, Kahuku occasionally wins against this giant by pure will and determination and in doing so they demonstrate that the underdog can sometimes prevail against all odds.