In the wake of recent tragedies and a circus-like presidential race, it can seem like the world is more divided than ever. While our ideological and socio-economic disparities may seem impenetrable, there’s always one thing Americans can rely on to transcend it all – good old fashioned football.
As a high school student, I attended a magnet program for academics that, like most specialized public school curricula, was offered at a district school located in a lower socio-economic neighborhood. Although technically we were all educated under the same roof, administrative officials did little to bridge a glaring gap between a mostly minority population commonly referred to as “traditional” students and the far less diverse population of the magnet program. One of the more cringe-worthy ways by which we were divided was by actually structuring our courses on different bell schedules, meaning we didn’t even cross paths during lunch. We each had our own prom king and queen, as well as dual student governments, creating a silent tension that flooded the high school halls.
The one thing we all did together was celebrate the extraordinary season of our state championship-winning football team. Dressed in red and white, players and fans dissolved a sea of separateness in a way only sports can facilitate. It was here I met and made dear friends from the “other side” as we celebrated victory after victory that sealed our solidarity. For a few hours every Friday night, my high school’s dual population came together as one.
For much of our society, sports offers a sense of identity for individuals and our nation as a whole. Throughout history, sports has brought America together in times of turmoil, civil rights issues, and global tension. Not without its fair share of controversy, it has also served as a platform for opportunity. With enough practice and natural ability, doors are opened to receive an education, defy physical limitations and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. While the recent Olympic Games in Rio have helped to promote global peace and equality through an array of athletic activity, here in America the pigskin reigns supreme. From the legendary Herschel Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner and an exceptional student, to football idol John Heisman himself, the game has long produced storied figures of inspiration.
In addition to its ability to break barriers of race and status, the game has a way of bridging what seems to be an ever-widening generational gap. While the technological revolution may capture the attention of your next of kin in a way that seems frighteningly robotic, differences often suddenly fall away with a little help from football. Much like music and food, tossing the old pigskin around the backyard provides a comforting simplicity devoid of the complications of a modern digital world.
While both college and professional football have spawned egos and scandals worthy of disdain, its gifts of healthy competitiveness and camaraderie dissolve diversity in unique and powerful ways. This issue was created to celebrate the very best of the game – its ability to unite us all. However you may feel about a bunch of grown men tackling each other on the turf, in a world full of tragedy, uncertainty and divisiveness, it’s important to remember that there are still some things that transcend our differences and our difficulties. In the words of the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world, it has the power to unite in a way that little else does.”
Amanda Smith, Editor