I have been involved with sports, in some capacity, for a very very long time. For as long as I can remember, I have had a ball of some type in my hand. I always had a particular interest in football and basketball, and I have played them for as long as I can remember. Even today, I make my very means of living by covering and reporting on sports.
As any parent or former athlete knows, when you play sports, you play with a wide range of athletes from all types of backgrounds. You also travel all over the place and meet all kinds of different people. I grew up playing in small towns across East Tennessee, and traveled all across the country playing basketball. Like me, most of the kids I played with came from modest backgrounds.
As a child I was very aware of how little we had. I remember eating the same thing for dinner all week, whether it was spaghetti, bologna sandwiches or something else. I remember wearing clothes that I didn’t like, but it was all I had. I remember people giving me a hard time about it as well. My outlet? Sports. On the court, and on the field, I was the same as everyone else. It didn’t matter what I had worn to school that day, or the fact that I lived in a single wide trailer. When I put that jersey on, I was the same as everyone else. It was an equal playing field, and as long as I was willing to put in the work, I could be even better.
My first season playing football was fourth grade. It was also my first experience of playing with black athletes. One of my teammates' last name was Jordan, and naturally, as a young nine year old boy, I thought he was Michael Jordan’s son. We took to each other rather quickly. He played wide receiver, and I was the quarterback. He was my favorite target on passing plays, because he was incredibly shifty and faster than most of the kids we played with.
We had traveled to Lee County, VA for a game, and we were winning by a lot. One of the opposing fans had grown increasingly upset, because Jordan was particularly unstoppable that day. From the stands, the man could be heard using racial slurs about him. He had heard one of them from the field, and began crying. I remember asking him what was wrong, and when he told me, I didn’t understand. I wasn’t familiar with those words, I didn’t know what they meant. I remember asking my mother what they meant, and used one of the words, and remember her telling me that she would pop me in the mouth if I ever uttered that word again. It was then I understood what that word meant.
I was sad for my friend. He was crying and there was nothing I could do to help him. I wanted to cry too. How could somebody be so mean to my teammate, my friend -- my brother? What did he do? He hadn’t done anything except for exactly what he was supposed to -- and did it well. Would the man have felt the same way if Jordan would have been on his team? He always told me that it was no big deal, that he was used to it, but I saw how it hurt him. He told me that he used it as motivation when he was playing.
I was so confused. But I knew one thing -- Jordan was the same as me. We played together, he would come stay at my house, and vice versa, we even slept in the same bed when he stayed at my house. I knew that I saw Jordan as just another kid. Not only another kid, but one of my very best friends. I knew that no matter what he looked like, we were the same. I knew that because of sports. We met on the field, and ended up forging a friendship that lasted until he moved away before we started high school. I told both of those stories to say this -- sports have done a lot for me, as well as many others. With so much going on in our country right now, we need sports. Sports transcend race, poverty and many other forms of adversity. Sports teach you how to handle adversity and overcome. Sports bond people and forge life-long relationships. Sports will forever remain a beacon of hope, and the world could use a little hope right now.