Celebrating mind and body through sports

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Matthew deGrood, Contributing Writer

Training by the hour under the hot sun challenges the body and the spirit, and, the author believes, prepares one for the academic grind. -Photo courtesy of LA Times
Training by the hour under the hot sun challenges the body and the spirit, and, the author believes, prepares one for the academic grind. -Photo courtesy of LA Times

I am blessed to be a student at the University of Dallas. For the past four years this university has been a haven for me to learn, discuss and grow with like-minded people. I say like-minded because all UD students are genuinely interested in learning. Even our tagline, “the Catholic University for Independent Thinkers,” describes what makes me so proud about this school. We celebrate the mind – a stark contrast with the majority of colleges and universities.
As much as I love UD, however, I have never experienced a place where so many people have such little interest in the world of sports. In fact, it is not uncommon to be scoffed at for expressing interest in sporting events. I find this attitude perplexing. Why shouldn’t celebrating the body be as important as celebrating the mind? And why is an interest in sports somehow considered uncultured? Sports do not make a person less educated. In fact, there is quite a lot of research that suggests that student athletes, on average, perform better than their peers.
During high school, every new school year started two weeks earlier for my football teammates and me than for other students. These two weeks, sometimes called “hell week,” were used for two-a-days (i.e. double sessions). We practiced twice each day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. These double sessions were used to get in shape for the season.
And they were excruciatingly painful. After a summer of leisure, we spent four hours each day in 95-degree heat, running sprints, lifting weights, and learning new formations and plays. Although at the time I never appreciated the total benefit of these two-a-days, I’ve since discovered that they not only prepared me for each new football season, but they also prepared me for the rigors of a UD education.
Getting ready for senior comps is not easy, but the discipline instilled in me by four years of two-a-days has taught me how to break the job into smaller, more manageable tasks, to stay focused, and to persevere, even when exhausted. Thinking back, if I could change one thing about my college career, I would stay involved in athletics in some capacity.
Not everyone wants to compete in sports, but we can all be fans, and the benefits can be as important as those that come from competing. Ardent fans live and die, to some degree, by the success of the team they support. Fans everywhere begin each season with anxious anticipation and high expectations – this might be the year their team wins the championship. As the season unfolds, some fans are rewarded and savor their team’s success, while others experience disappointment and must wait until next season for redemption. This cycle of a season is a perfect representation of life and a true thing of beauty – nigh poetry.
Even those who think that they are not sports fans can be profoundly affected by sports.  For instance, while I did not witness the USA men’s hockey team defeat the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, my father watched it on television and he recounts the impact it had on our country’s psyche. President Carter had just signed legislation approving a $1.5 billion loan to bail out Chrysler Corporation; people sat idling their engines while waiting in line to purchase gasoline; the FBI was conducting the Abscam sting operation investigating public corruption; the U.S. and Soviet Union were waging a Cold War (and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan had heightened tensions between the two superpowers); the Iran hostage crisis was in its 108th day; the U.S. dollar was at an all-time low; interest rates were at double digits; and unemployment was rising. The country was feeling impotent and insecure.
And then an overmatched team of young but talented American college hockey players defeated what was considered one of the greatest hockey teams of all time. The effect that this “Miracle on Ice” had on our country was astounding. The victory was as much political as it was athletic. The country began to look forward with confidence and optimism. A nation learned that hard work, passion and teamwork can accomplish anything.
Fandom is something unifying. Sportswriter Frank Deford describes the essence of what makes the Super Bowl the cultural phenomenon it has become: “In a society that is becoming more and more fragmented … the Super Bowl gives us a moment when we all do come together for a good reason. Not to watch something political, not to watch a tragedy. But just to come together on this level of friendship, and share something and enjoy it. That’s wonderful and that’s dear, in a way. One does not usually think of football as dear and precious. But what it does to America by binding us for that time, even if you don’t give a hoot about football, is good.”
The unity, passion and will necessarily involved in sports both for the athlete and the fan create something beautiful – something deserving of praise and celebration. Sports, viewed in this light, are truly a poetic celebration of the body and of the intense will of the human spirit.

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