In the past three days two very scary yet completely unrelated incidents have opened my eyes to just how much this obsession called sports is in reality extremely superficial. Yet at the same time, it also proves just how much sports plays a part in all our lives.
On Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys indoor practice facility collapsed after an extreme weather event called a microburst formed directly over the 125 yard, eight story building. It's a miracle that out of 70 people that were inside during the collapse there were only three serious injuries. Rick Behm, a scout for the team, is permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
That afternoon I watched in horror as video after video surfaced on TV and on the internet, a first-person view of the disaster from multiple angles. You hear the panic and terror as the walls come down and you see people running for their lives. In one video you can see a man running away only to have the roof come down on top of him.
After a few moments of intense confusion, panic turns to reaction as the focus becomes saving those that are trapped beneath the fallen debris. There is nothing more heart-wrenching to me than when I see the lengths people will go to in order to help those around them. Players, coaches and media worked side by side, desperately cutting away canvas and lifting mangled framing in a frantic search for those that were standing next to them just moments before.
And no one was killed. It's a full-blown miracle, no matter what your beliefs might be.
Last night St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel sprinted across the grass as he lunged towards a fly ball in the gap. After making the catch he stumbled and fell head first into the outfield wall. His head and neck took the brunt of the impact. After several long minutes he was placed on a stretcher and carted off. X-Rays and a CT scan showed no damage; he would be sore but fine.
It is in moments like these that the human nature of sports hits you square in the gut.
We spend countless hours, days, months and years of our time devoted to the teams we hold so dear. We live and die with their wins and losses, curse at the screen when they fall short and cry with joy when it all goes perfectly right.
We spend our hard earned money on tickets, merchandise and collectibles; our money which in turn makes these sports idols richer than we could ever hope to be. Fans use this fact as an excuse to berate players who perform poorly, to boo a team that is underachieving and to demand change when things go wrong. After all the game is played for our entertainment, right?
So in our obsession, players and management become pawns in the ultimate goal of winning. "This guy isn't performing well, so send him down! Give up on him and get a guy who can produce now!" The emotional (not to mention physical) toll sports must take on players is overlooked and mostly ignored. "Who cares what his dreams were, he's not helping us win right now!"
The human aspect of the game is pushed aside. We see an injury as a timetable for a return. Next time you read about a player tearing a ligament, spraining an ankle or breaking a bone in his hand instead of demanding to know how long until he plays again, how about sitting back and imagining what that pain must be like? How many of us fans have torn pectoral muscles? Had an high-ankle sprain? These players can become reduced to nothing more than stats on a page.
But at the same time fans become emotionally attached to the players they follow, especially long-time franchise stars. They see the emotions, the long-term commitment involved to keep a player around for years on end. Perhaps that player has been part of the good times in the past, is one of the all-time greats and you can't imagine your team without him.
In 1999 Mike Modano was checked from behind by Ruslan Salei into the boards, his head and neck bent grotesquely back as his body whiplashed across the ice. I've never heard Reunion Arena so quiet. My mom was crying. People were stunned. This superstar who had been with this team as long as it had been in Dallas was suddenly in a life-threatening situation. The humanity of the event really hit hard and he was no longer a great player on a hockey card, but a man scared he might not walk again.
When anything tragic happens in sports, whether it's the several NFL players involved in paralyzing accidents on the field or the murders of others off of it, it's a sudden kick in the gut to remind us that in the end this thing called sports is just a game.
We may spend our entire life obsessed with every aspect of our favorite team, but in the end these are players and coaches who have wives, husbands and children to go home to. While we may feel the amount of money involved is incredibly high, there's no doubting that sacrifices are made from everyone involved in order to provide entertainment for the masses.
So I ask every sports fan out there to not take for granted the game we watch. Be thankful for the people involved. For most of us, sports is the only outlet in life we have. But don't take it too seriously because when all is said and done, it is just a game.