At a football game earlier this season, the opposing team ran the same play twice in a row. The same back ran the ball, the same defender made the tackle, and the same penalty was called on the same player of the offense. The timing was perfect for me to utter into the microphone, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” in a nod to the recently-departed Yogi Berra.
Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s likely you’ve heard of the great New York Yankees catcher. You might not be able to recite his stats or his incredible number of trips to the World Series, making him arguably the greatest winner in sports history, but you probably remember him in the Aflac commercials dumbfounding the duck with his malapropisms.
And that’s why I figured everyone would react well, having heard the quote I used at some point in their lives. Yogi Berra expanded beyond the world of sports. He was also an example of a great athlete who gave up some of his prime years to serve in the military during World War II. Others on that list include Bob Feller, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson. Now there are thousands of young men and women who have given up opportunities in their jobs to serve our country, but can you imagine a war today and seeing LeBron James or Adrian Peterson stepping aside from their contracts to go fight overseas?
Jackie Robinson certainly shows just how much sports can impact everyday life. He broke the color barrier in baseball and helped push ahead the Civil Rights movement. Would civil rights have happened without Robinson? What would the result in our country have been if that color barrier had not been brought down yet in sports? I’m not sure I know the answer, but it would make for an interesting debate.
It’s fine if sports aren’t your thing, but it’s hard to deny the impact they have on society. The Super Bowl is the most watched program on television year in and year out. It brings people together, not just to watch the game (or the commercials) but to enjoy each other’s company and have a good time. Think of the money generated for the economy through the food and drink bought, as well as the millions paid to air those commercials.
Without the sports teams in our state, there would be fewer jobs available. How many people work for the Gophers, Twins, Timberwolves, Vikings, Wild, and Lynx? What would they do without sports? Would there be other jobs which popped up to take the place of all those careers? Granted, some are surely minimum wage jobs, but that’s better than being unemployed.
Some people claim we don’t need sports in our schools or that we pay too much attention to them and spend too much money on them. The actual amount spent on sports is around 1% of the overall budget of a school. And the skills taught go far beyond shooting a basketball or serving a volleyball. Kids are taught teamwork, how to overcome adversity, and how to be a good winner and loser, all things we need to know in our adult lives. I actually heard someone say years back, when our school district was struggling a bit financially, that we should just cut all the sports. What if that’s the one thing keeping a student focused on their work? It’s the idea that the student needs to keep the grades up in order to participate in something at which he or she excels, maybe the only thing that comes easy. More and more, schools are becoming a place to teach more than reading, writing, and arithmetic, and sports (as well as other extracurriculars) are a big part of that.
When I mentioned Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in last week’s column, you might not have recognized them if you are not a baseball fan. Indeed, not many athletes so transcend their sport to draw attention around the country and the world. But if I talk about Tiger Woods, you almost for sure know who that is and what sport he plays. You might not know much beyond that, but he had such a tremendous impact on golf that his celebrity status grew beyond that contingent of fans.
Possibly the biggest athlete in that realm was Muhammad Ali. He, like Jackie Robinson, helped define civil rights from a sports perspective. Even today, Ali is recognized wherever he goes; I would guess most of you would be able to name him if you saw a picture. He used his celebrity to do many good works, and these are the athletes who are most admirable. Take that money and power and help others.
As has been clear when I delve into the world of sports in my columns, I can’t imagine life without them. They are true reality TV, where you’re never quite sure what might happen, unlike the many other formulaic programs on the tube. Without sports (to paraphrase Yogi), the future wouldn’t be what it used to be.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is gannet, which means a greedy person, as in, “Yogi Berra might not have been considered a gannet when he told the server to cut the pizza into four pieces because he wasn’t hungry enough for six.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!