Chou: Sports are more important than the outcome of any one game

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Curtis Chou, Columnist

Northwestern lost a football game on Saturday. The statement is pretty innocuous: To the larger world, it is objective and factual, devoid of emotion. To the more acute followers of college football, it is a result that plagued half the teams that played games on the second weekend of this October. Inevitably there will be bumps in the road during a football season. The losses will mount one by one, little by little, but hopefully not too many weeks in a row. But the dream of a successful season, though perhaps tarnished, is not over. NU is 2-1 in the Big Ten and very much on the hunt for the West division title.

So it is not too bad, right? But instead of these thoughts going through my head in the minutes following NU’s loss to Minnesota, I sat silently on the couch stewing in utter misery. And ironically, that is the beauty of sports. They have the capacity to taunt and the capacity to calm. They have the tendency to induce perspiration and the tendency to evoke exhilaration. They are the most unpredictable form of theater, which means that they lose their shine if not seen in real time. They are balms for life’s troubles and social arenas for community. They are worlds unto themselves, yet they are so intricately tied to the society they operate in.

True, there are many who lament the fascinating hold that the American sports industry has over its citizens. And in some respects, they are not wrong. Fandom is irrational and can lead to a psychopathological obsession with sports teams or celebrity athletes. Irrationality distorts social, economic and political priorities. The exclusivity of the team culture and the commitment to winning fosters a dangerous environment where the players’ performance on the field trumps their performance off the field. The “team” becomes so important that anything that jeopardizes its integrity is viewed as an antagonist. A spate of incidents serves as ammunition against the proliferation of sports idolization: Ray Rice, Steubenville, Jameis Winston — just to name a few in football, the most obsessive and violent of mainstream sports.

But to many people, sports mean so much more. They are reasons to get together as a community and stand behind a common goal, no matter how silly that goal might seem to others. And for colleges and universities, where the people who work and play come from all walks of life and from across the vast landscape of the country, there is nothing as unifying as cheering on their college team. There is nothing as exciting and as euphoric as screaming at the top of your lungs for three hours at a college football game while chatting and high-fiving fellow students whom you’ve never met before. There are very few events throughout the course of an academic year that can bring a few hundred, let alone a few thousand students together, and college sporting events give that opportunity every single week, if not every single day. But even more so, sports create iconic moments etched into memory. They are shared by a nation, which for a moment can admire an act of physical achievement imbued with the wonder of chance and timing that leads to sporting magic.

On a personal level, sports are a connection to a time past — they are bread crumbs to where you come from. For me, they harken to early spring days on the tennis court with my father. The wind is still bitter, and I can see my breath in the air. Fast forward past the summer months, as the temperature dips toward freezing again and the snow falls like flour from the sky, and I remember the grandeur of old Yankee Stadium and the roar of bombers baseball. I know that years down the road when NU’s campus has been rendered too different for me to remember, I will think back and cherish the cold winter nights when I have taken refuge in the humid caverns of Welsh-Ryan Arena. I will think back to the mystical atmosphere that surrounded the NU baseball game against Michigan at Wrigley Field. And I will never forget the feeling of standing in the bleachers of Ryan Field among a thousand peers wrapped tightly in 15 degree weather, the warm comfort of hot chocolate in my gloved hands.

The storylines in sports can often feel like a microcosm of life. They can certainly be a distraction from the stresses of life. Sports can never replace life, but without a doubt, they can enrich it. NU isn’t a school that sells itself by showcasing its sports program, and I honestly did not care much for college athletics before I came to NU. But after living and dying with the fortunes of NU’s 2011-12 men’s basketball team, I knew I was in love with the school. There is something magical about sports that ignites a passionate fervor for the place you come from. It is my connection to my home, my high school and now my university. That is why, despite my moping after the Minnesota loss, I will be the first in line at the gate for NU’s homecoming football game against Nebraska because I know that the game, the lights, the sounds — they are all parts of a memory.

Curtis Chou is a Communication senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].