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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Column: Why should sports matter?

Do sports matter? As an avid sports fan, my answer is yes. To me sports hold sentimental value as I remember all of the great events I have watched. However, beyond this, the glimpses of the resiliency and determination to succeed which sports provide are something which I believe is of worth to society.

Societal changes are usually long and slow processes which require many brave people to take stands. Sports has long been one of the important platforms for people to push for social change.

For example, the great Jackie Robinson was a man who pushed for racial equality more than two decades before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major Leagues. Breaking the color barrier and blazing a trail for other African Americans to follow, Robinson represents one of the greatest advocates for social change sports has ever had.

Robinson’s ground-breaking decision to play in the majors was not without resistance from society. Yet the courage and grace with which Robinson endured slurs and taunts while still succeeding was an inspiration to many and a crucial building block for the Civil Rights Movement.

The allure of fame and riches has in some ways dulled the reputation of sports’ positive impact on society. Most of the time, athletes make the news for drug arrests, domestic violence and other indiscretions. However, this does not mean that sports matters less in our society.

One event sticks in my mind as a moment where a sporting event transcended competition. In the 1992 Olympics, 400-meter runner Derek Redmond came into the event desiring a top-three finish.

He was forced to drop out of the 1988 Olympics at the last minute due to an Achilles tendon injury. The stage was set for Redmond to claim the spotlight in 1992. After four long years of waiting, he was in fine form and qualified for the final heat of the 400-meter. He was ready to win a medal.

However, fate had different ideas for Redmond. After finishing more than half of the sprint, Redmond tore his hamstring. In one of the most devastating moments in Olympic history, Redmond slowly hobbled on one foot and eventually fell to the ground.

His Olympic dreams were dashed. In the midst of this despair, Redmond’s father rushed down from the stands onto the track and helped Redmond up.

Redmond refused to get carted off because he wanted to finish the race. So with his father alongside him, Redmond hobbled his way to finish the race. He turned one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Olympic history into a story of personal triumph and determination.

These examples are all fairly dramatic and on a large stage. However, I do not believe that these events only happen in large, professional sports. These characteristics which are much applauded in the sports world are alive here in Davis as well.

The actions of Robinson and Redmond had the benefit of being on such a visible level. As the UC Davis athletics program has made strides toward improvement, it has slowly been gaining more national attention.

A prime example of this was the nationally-televised men’s basketball game against Long Beach State this year. For the first time ever, a UC Davis men’s basketball game was televised on ESPN, and the game did not disappoint.

The Aggies, underdogs in the game, eventually fell to the 49ers. However, the game’s most memorable aspect was the grit and determination with which UC Davis played. The team battled through all the obstacles, including an injury to star sophomore guard Corey Hawkins with only a few minutes left. Despite the injury, the Aggies fought on and had a chance to win the game at the last second.

Never once did the Aggies back down from the bigger 49ers team. Such will is an inspiring sight and sums up what makes sports great. We really do not need to look far to watch players with determination and the will to succeed, as there are examples here at UC Davis.

Why do sports matter? Sports present an opportunity to highlight the determination and work ethic which inspire many of us to believe that no matter what obstacles come, we can succeed.

KENNETH LING can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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