Sports play important role for society’s psyche

On Wednesday night, sports made us mad.

We were angry watching the NBA team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics celebrate a trip to the finals, led by Kevin Durant, a star who should have been ours.

We were mad at Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett and his cronies for taking our team, mad at the league and its oh-so-smug commissioner for facilitating the heist, mad at former Sonics owner Howard Schultz for selling out a city, and mad at the local leaders who didn’t do nearly enough to stop it from happening.

Then on Thursday morning, a little more than 12 hours after an evening of anger, sports provided us with a redemption story. It was a story so sweet, even the most bitter and cynical person listening would have had a hard time suppressing a smile when Brian Banks beamed about the way his life has changed in the past two weeks.

And the day after that, sports left us scratching our heads, trying to make sense of the six-pitcher no-hitter the Mariners used to beat the Dodgers.

One day we watched hopelessly; the next, we listened breathlessly; and then we looked on in wonderment and enjoyed a very strange ride. And while these three stories had nothing to do with each other aside from a connection to the Seattle sports scene, they combined to form a perfect example of why sports are so important to so many.

Every now and then, somebody trying to make a point, will try to downplay the importance of sports in our society. Maybe they’re against a new arena, or maybe they just don’t understand why some collection of fans are getting so worked up.

Most famously, Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata once said the Sonics provide “close to zero” cultural value to the area, but he is hardly the first or last person to not understand the passion that true sports fans feel.

And it’s completely within anyone’s rights to think sports are a waste of time, but that doesn’t mean you can say that what fans feel isn’t real. We were reminded of that in very dramatic fashion three times the past few days.

The pain and anger basketball fans felt Wednesday night, the emotion Banks’ story brought out of everyone who heard it, and unbridled joy experienced at Safeco Field, all of that was very real. Yes, there is a difference between a sports tragedy and an actual tragedy, between sports heroes and actual heroes, between sports hate and actual hate. Just don’t tell me that the ups and downs sports made us feel over that 72-hour span weren’t real.

And even if the consequences of sports rarely have serious real-life implications, they can help shine a spotlight on very real issues. If Brian Banks wasn’t a football player, if he hadn’t worked out for the Seahawks Thursday and the San Diego Chargers Friday, far fewer people would know about the injustice that cost him a decade of his life after being wrongly convicted of rape.

“I feel that my story has a chance of helping people in similar situations or other situations that they really can’t see past or get through,” Banks said Thursday. “I want to document what I’ve been through. I want to document where I’m going now so that I may in turn help people to get through whatever they’re going through.

“Two weeks ago I was a guy who was just sitting inside of his house trying to get through parole and deal with the situations that I’ve been through. Today, having all these cameras in front of me only shows that I have not only the support of my family, but support of people who are just finding out about this story who feel like there is an injustice within our system, flaws that need to be fixed, and I’m realizing that I’m giving people hope to overcome the situations they’re also going through. And if that is my calling then I’m ready to answer.”

Without sports, far fewer people would have an opportunity to learn from Banks, a man who has every right to be mad at the world, and especially at the woman who made up the rape allegations, but instead chose hope over bitterness even when bitterness was a very valid option.

“No,” Banks quickly answered when asked if he was angry or bitter. “I’ve been asked this question a few times since this whole ordeal, and not at all. Look where I am. Look where I am today. I thank God for this. This is a blessing. And the last thing I want to do is be bitter. I’ve had those days when I first received a six-year sentence, I had those days where I just wanted to lay in my cell and be angry and be bitter, but I realized all it did for me was keep me in a cell bitter and angry.

“Going to prison, being on parole, and even having this tryout today, it doesn’t define me. This doesn’t define me. There’s so much more to me. There will be so much more to me.”

Even if tangentially, we can learn from sports, become better people because of sports. We can also be driven mad by sports, want to curse and throw things through our TVs because of sports. We saw the good and bad of sports last week. It was ugly, it was beautiful, it was mind-boggling and it was a reminder of why we care so much.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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