In the world we live in today, a person might find himself leisurely sitting on his front porch reading the morning paper one afternoon and find the next day that his perfect porch no longer exists due to a massive hurricane. [sports]
In a world where full-scale wars are fought daily over reasons most people don’t even understand and in locations that most people couldn’t even point out on a map, we struggle with the fight of massive epidemics and battle against unemployment problems. We live in a country where it is estimated that a child is born every three seconds and in a world where an estimated 107 people die with each passing minute.
Things tend to get a little crazy around here.
A question often asked of the media is a pretty basic query on coverage selection: why in a nation and world with so many hardships and pressing issues do we see so many front page stories focused on simple athletic games intended for childlike amusement?
What is it about a sport that captivates people so much? Why do we deem it acceptable for someone who has a strong throwing arm and can hit for both average and power to make millions of dollars a year while a school teacher who molds the minds of our youth has to live from paycheck to paycheck?
So might it be a mistake of the media to focus so much time and effort on games while so many other issues demand constant attention?
MSU journalism senior and Lansing State Journal sports stringer Matt Kemper doesn’t think so. “Absolutely not,” said Kemper. “If the market wasn\’t there, sports wouldn\’t be covered.”
Kemper, who covers mainly Lansing area high school sports for the paper, believes that the sports media certainly has a place in the world and an obligation to the public as well.
“People love to fall in love with their teams and schools,” Kemper said. “The media knows what it is doing, and if people didn\’t want sports coverage all the time, then there wouldn\’t be sports coverage all the time.”
But what is it about sports that make an average reader grab for the sports page quicker than the nation and world section and what is the huge draw that engrosses people by these events?
Mike Hautamaki, an MSU pre-med sophomore, looks to the sports page as a break from everything else. “I usually like to check out all of the local stuff, like any of the Michigan State sports,” said Hautamaki. “It just allows people to have a distraction from everyday life I guess.”
Ashley Romanowski, an MSU English sophomore, agrees with Hautamaki and explains that she mainly reads the sports page just to keep up with what’s going on around campus. “If it has to do with MSU then I am usually always interested,” said Romanowski. “I don’t see it as something that is more important than anything else or necessarily more attention grabbing though. I just think that sometimes it might be more timely.”
LSJ sports writer Kemper said that as a reader, he grabs the sports page as an escape. “I pick up the sports page because I\’ve usually just been made depressed by the news page,” said Kemper. “And I need something to cheer me up.”
Kemper also explained how sports provide something a little different than the average everyday news can give a reader. “As a writer, sports provide the absolute best material for storytelling, which is basically what we do,” Kemper said. “The drama and the intrigue give us so much to work with. News reporting is wonderful, but there is so much more opportunity, at least it seems so to me, for creativity in sports writing.”
Memorable Moments
There have been moments in time where people will often use the phrase, “I will always remember where I was,” when discussing an event. Moments such as Sept. 11, 2001 or the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
But what about Nov. 7, 1991? The day where a national icon was made human and an entire world took real notice on a global epidemic that has now reached pandemic proportions. This was the day where a larger than life man from Lansing, Mich. took his unmistakably brilliant smile and uncanny talent for running the fast break and brought the world to its knees.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the man who put MSU on the map in 1979 and brought a pulse back to the National Basketball Association in the 80s with his brand of basketball known as “Showtime,” was HIV positive.
The incredible Spartan and Los Angeles Lakers point guard from Waverly High School told the world at a press conference that he had the disease that everyone thought was both a gay-only disease and a death sentence. People watched in utter disbelief as the man who was beloved and admired by all contracted a disease formerly known to be associated with only gay men and intravenous drug users.
But true to his nickname, something almost magical seemed to happen. Days, weeks, even years went by and Johnson never seemed to be affected. His survival and ability to live with HIV in the public eye seemed to bust down the doors of AIDS awareness and help everyone understand that no one was safe and prevention was needed.
Johnson’s “hard news” moved beyond the playing fields and assisting in something positive in the real world.
And who could forget Jason McElwain? The senior basketball sensation from Rochester, New York who stole the hearts of everyone this past February with a performance not to be soon forgotten.
McElwain, a senior at Greece Athena High School who suffers from Autism, served as his varsity team manager throughout the season and had never suited up for a game before.
But during the last regular season game of his senior year, Athena head coach Jim Johnson decided to reward him by letting him dress in uniform and sit on the bench.
No promises were made to McElwain as to whether he’d actually get to play or not, but it didn’t seem to matter. Just being in uniform on the bench was special enough. Things got even more special though with about four minutes to play in the game and his team up double figures. With the roar of the crowd behind him, the kid who his teammates affectionately call “J-Mac,” entered his first ever high school game.
What happened next was something not even the most far fetched of Hollywood movies could predict.
After airballing his first shot and missing a layup, J-Mac proceeded to hit a school record with six three-pointers and finished with a game high of 20 points. He was then carried off the court by a mob of teammates and students
In a mere 240 seconds, J-Mac went from being a popular team manager to a national sensation and a symbol of hope for Autism sufferers everywhere.
The Great Equalizer
But why sports? What is it about watching grown men crash into each other on a football field or watching in amazement as a figure skater lands one triple axel after another?
“When you talk to people about why they participate in sports, they’ll say its fun,” said Dr. Martha Ewing, an MSU sports psychologist and faculty member for the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports. “From an emotional perspective we don’t see so much fun in the world’s pressing issues and problems.”
“As a fan, I love the passion it inspires in me,” Kemper said. “It\’s not even intentional, but I end up enthralled in these games that are of little or no consequence to my life.”
Hautamaki explained how a lot of people actually play many sports to keep active, so it would be natural for them to relate to them. “I’ve always played everything,” Hautamaki said. “The competitiveness of it all and everything about it has just always interested me.”
Ultimately, no one may ever argue that game seven of the NBA Finals is realistically more important than a presidential election. But what is important about sports is the release it gives people. The power it has to reach millions on a daily basis, and the ability it has to impact our lives- to help us escape from reality and give us inspiration.
“To the athletes participating, the positive consequences are obvious. To the fans watching, it’s an opportunity to get lost in something bigger than they are,” Kemper said. “Sports provide the fans with the chance to escape for a few innings.”
Sports can bring anyone from any walk of life together. It can bring lifelong political adversaries together for a mere four quarters if they are both rooting for the same team. Sports certainly have a place in our culture, and one that doesn’t seem to be fading away anytime soon.
“I like to think of sports as the great equalizer,” said Kemper. “Two guys with completely different ideas and views of the world can become best friends over a good game.”

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