Can sports bring us together as a nation? Don't bet on it

Bernie Lincicome
Chicago Tribune

"Sometimes it's not enough to change laws, you have to change hearts. And sports has a way of changing hearts." — Barack Obama

What a nice thought. What bunk.

The times being what they are, and what they are unsettles the times, sports is here to take credit for being a place where, as a Supreme Court justice once mused, we can find people's accomplishments.

Actually, Earl Warren was talking about sports pages versus front pages, a battle lost by both, as it turns out, to tweets, blogs and the attention span of fruit flies.

Surely the EPOTUS (figure it out) meant to praise the Cubs for being an inspiration, for allowing a great national hug, when I'm not sure anyone in St. Louis or New York felt the same.

Sports have always been as tribal as politics have become, and politics have become as savage as any game you can name. As an old gonzo god once said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

Trash talk is discourse and lies are disguised as page clicks.

To expect sports to rescue us from our modern murk is asking much more of sports than is possible, since sports itself is the modern model.

Locker-room talk. Remember that? Permission to be despicable.

When was sports what we wish it would be? When did it change hearts? Back when the Christians battled the Lions, when the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton? More bunk.

Was it when Pierre de Coubertin proclaimed that the taking part was more important than the winning? Then why give out Olympic medals?

Was it when a parent conspired to fix the egg-and-spoon race so Junior could feel better about himself? (A drop of epoxy works wonders.)

Does sports rescue our better angels or feed our petty grudges? The answer in politics is clear. This could be fifth-grade recess with one kid shouting, "Are too!" and the other answering, "Am not!"

When was the last time Packers fans stood and cheered the Bears for a game well played? Bad example. The Bears do not play games well.

Here's what we sports fans do. We cheer injuries. We mock mistakes. We boo calls until the call is reversed and then we cheer. No one is more fickle than a face-painted, foam-fingered fan wearing a team shirt that fit when we bought it.

We cling to the fantasy, we sigh for the myths, for the lessons that sometimes seep from sports, the examples of courage and persistence and commitment and discipline, all good things, all worth imagining, all worth hanging on to.

We try to shrug off the real, the cruelty, the greed, the selfishness. There is enough of that in the cable news crawl.

Can sports be the healer of the nation's wounds, something to get us through the coming uncertainty? Can sports be the place where we can find order and clarity, where heroes may be overpaid but not overpraised, where the scoreboard means what it says, the winner is the one with the most points.

Yes, sports, it's up to you. Save us, please.

Will there be another Cubs story to stir our hearts, if not change them, another LeBron James to restore glory to broken dreams, a new Usain Bolt to step out in front of us all, a return of Tiger Woods to repair our faith in fables, a Serena Williams to match dignity with will?

We will wait for such, we will root for such, we will know it when we see it and enjoy it while we can. We will try to keep the real world on the other side of despair.

We do want it to be so. We want sports to have a transformative power to make us better than we are.

And yet, more often than not, sports seems to makes us worse.

But we are worse together. So I guess that's something.

Bernie Lincicome is a special contributor to the Chicago Tribune.

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