Some Deep Reflection on a Wednesday

Some Deep Reflection on a Wednesday

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    This isn’t exactly the typical blog you’ll find here at MLHS, but I figured it was definitely something worthwhile to share. I recently came across an extremely well written excerpt from the book, The Joy of Sports, by author Michael Novak. While not relating directly to hockey or the Maple Leafs, it is certainly a reflective piece with an interesting philosophical twist that speaks to the needs, desires and hopes of the common sports fan.    

    “The institutions of the state generate a civil religion; so do the institutions of sport. The ancient Olympic games used to be both festivals in honor of the gods and festivals in honor of the state-and that has been the classical position of sports ever since. The ceremonies of sports overlap those of the state on one side and those of [religion] on the other. At the Super Bowl in 1970, clouds of military jets flew in formation, [U.S.] flags and patriotic bunting flapped in the wind, ceremonies honored prisoners of way, [clergy] solemnly prayed, thousands sang the national anthem. Going to a stadium is half like going to a political rally, half like going to [a religious gathering]. Even today, the Olympics are constructed around high ceremonies, rituals, and symbols. The Olympics are not bare-bones athletic events but religion and politics as well.

    Most men and women don’t separate sections of their mind. They honor their country, go to [a place of worship], and also enjoy sport. All parts of their lives meld together. [Nearly] every writer about sports lapses into watery religious metaphor. So do writers on politics and sex. Larry Merchant says television treated the Super Bowl “as though it were a solemn High Mass.” Words like sacred, devotion, faith, ritual, immortality, and love figure often in the language of sports. Cries like “You gotta believe!” and “life or death” and “sacrifice” are frequently heard…

    I am arguing a considerably stronger point. I am saying that sports flow outward into action from a deep natural impulse that is radically religious: an impulse of freedom, respect for ritual limits, a zest for symbolic meaning, and a longing for perfection. The athlete may of course be pagan, but sports are, as it were, natural religions. There are many ways to express this radical impulse: by the asceticism and dedication of preparation; by a sense of respect for the mysteries of one’s own body and soul and for powers not in one’s own control; by a sense of awe for the place and time of competition; by a sense of fate; by a felt sense of comradeship and destiny; by a sense of participation in the rhythms and tides of nature itself.

    Sports, in the second place, are organized and dramatized in a religious way. Not only do the origins of sports, the like origins of drama, lie in religious celebrations; not only are the rituals, vestments, and tremor of anticipation involved in sports events like those of religions-even in our own secular age and for quite sophisticated and agnostic persons, the rituals of sports really work. They do serve a religious function: They feed a deep human hunger, place humans in touch with certain dimly perceived features of human life within this cosmos, and provide an experience of at least a pagan sense of godliness.

    Among the godward signs in contemporary life, sports may be the single most powerful manifestation. I don’t mean that participation in sports, as athlete or fan, makes one believer in “God,” under whatever concept, image, experience, or drive to which one attaches the name. Rather, sports drive one in some dark and generic sense “godward.” In the language of Paul Tillich, sports are manifestations of concern, of will and intellect and passion. In fidelity to that concern, one submits oneself to great bodily dangers, even to the danger of death. Symbolically, too, to lose is a kind of death.”

    M. Novak, The Joy of Sports. ©1976 by M. Novak

    So, on that note… what do you love most about sports? Let’s share some favorite sporting moments as both participants and as fans.

    1. What is… the most memorable moment in sports for you?

    - Edgar Renteria drives in the winning run to win Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for Florida. One of the first times I had really fully invested all of my emotion into a sports game.

    2. What is… the best sports accomplishment you’ve ever achieved?

    - Scored the golden goal as a defender in to push my soccer team into the finals a few years ago.

    3. What is… the single best sports match you’ve ever watched?

    - So many… Federer vs. Roddick at this year’s Wimbledon… my goodness…

    4. Who is… the most iconic sports figure in the world today?

    - Tie between Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Absolutely dominate their respective sports.

    5. What is… the most funny or embarrassing sports moment you’ve ever witnessed?

    - Brian Campbell obliterating RJ Umberger as he comes out of the zone with his head down. Absolutely epic.

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