Sports are society’s hybrid. They are both an escape from realism and a reflection of real life.
For both participants and spectators, sports provide a relief of the every day toils, turmoils, challenges and even boredom of ever day living. That was never truer than the surreal world of today with its pandemic, fires, smoke, climate weirdness, social unrest, riots and political division. Even the simple act of wearing a face mask is divisive.
But even as sports take us away, if even briefly, from the troubles of the world, they can’t totally separate us from the world. Sports are part of the world we all share and the world’s problems are problems for athletes, coaches, fans, and, on the local level, parents.
Look around right here in Petaluma and see the conflict between sports teams and groups who are trying hard to obey all the social-distancing rules and others who simply ignore all protocols, maintaining the need for participation outweigh the health dangers.
But life and sports merge in many more and, ultimately, deeper ways than the current health crisis, as devastating as it is.
Athletes, even high-school age athletes are not only socially aware, but socially active.
I attended San Jose State College (it was later upgraded to university status) in the days of Tommy Smith and John Carlos. I watched my classmates publicly burn, their draft cards. I held on to mine and ended at Fort Ord for basic training. I never regretted my service, but also respected those who had the courage of their conviction.
To me, one of the best student/athletes I’ve been privileged to cover during my long tenure in this business is 2020 Casa Grande High School graduate Lillian McCoy. There are very few athletes ever to reach the state meet plateau in two sports. Lillian is among those few who can make that claim, earning state honors in both wrestling and track and field.
I seldom got to see Lillian in action. She had very few wrestling matches on her home mat, and when I did attend a track meet, I tended to concentrate on the running events. Lillian, of course, was a record-setting shot putter who is headed to Cal State Northridge on a track scholarship.
I did interview her several times and found her to be gracious, articulate, and forthright without the less than genuine false humility of some athletes of the “Ah! Shucks” mold. What moved Lillian to the top of my all-time athletes list was her involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the leaders and organizers in the initial Petaluma protest, a peaceful assembly at Walnut Park shortly after the death of George Floyd.
Lillian’s involvement underscores the commitment of young people, including many young athletes who have long been strongly involved in any number of social causes from equal treatment (and pay) for women athletes, to immigrants’ rights, to global warming.
What is happening in professional sports today is a reflection of what is happening with young people in our own community and communities across the country, including our young athletes.
There might by smoke literally and figuratively hanging over out community, but the breeze of change is blowing, and it is coming from the young people who we so often cheer on our own playing fields, diamonds and basketball courts.
(Contact John Jackson at [email protected])