Friday, July 15, 2011
July 15, 2011: On the Other Hand
I feel as if yesterday’s post was a bit harsh on the world of sports, especially since that world has given me a huge amount of happiness, both as a fan (particularly of the Atlanta Braves, but also of the University of Virginia men’s soccer and women’s basketball teams, among many others) and as a player (particularly on my own many soccer teams, but also tennis, cross country, and others). Of course I was focused on a very specific subset of experiences and perspectives within that world, and I hold to my take on them (and will, I must admit, be rooting hard for Japan in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday—the combination of underdog status and what that nation has recently experienced makes it impossible for me to do otherwise). But I feel it important to highlight here one example of many of how sports can also provide moments that are truly inspiring, not only on but also and more significantly off the field.
This particular example is not only deeply inspiring, but also very surprising: former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin has been known since his playing days as one of the most extreme members of a Cowboys team full of extremes, a man whose love for drugs and women and fast cars and etc. always threatened to dwarf even his prodigious athletic gifts. In this stunningly honest and impressive Out magazine cover story,
Irvin fully owns up to that legacy, and makes it a compelling part of his narrative about how and why he came to support marriage equality (the story’s explicit focus). But even more compelling and impressive than that, and even more moving and powerful than his love and respect for his late brother, is Irvin’s worry about a conversation he might have at the pearly gates:
“The last thing I want is to go to God and have him ask, 'What did you do?' And I talk about winning Super Bowls and national titles. … I didn't do anything to make it a better world before I left? All I got is Super Bowls? That would be scary."
At times it can indeed feel that the world of sports boils down to winning, and thus, to parallel yesterday’s thoughts, to winners and losers, us and them. But as Irvin recognizes here, there’s more to it than that—and while his perspective might be said to be transcending sports, it is also coming very directly out of it, building on his successes and fame within it to make this amazing case for social and legal and human equality. As a kid growing up rooting for the Washington Redskins, I was supposed to hate Michael Irvin and the Cowboys; now? Definitely a fan.
PS. Any inspiring sports figures or stories you’d highlight?