Pots & pans: Are we in the greatest era of championship sports?
The world’s most iconic athletes are all playing at the top of their game
In January in the Land Down Under, Roger Federer and Serena Williams returned to the top of pro tennis. They won the men’s and women’s singles titles at the Australian Open, respectively. On Feb. 5, the NFL football season ended with quarterback Tom Brady leading his New England Patriots to a miraculous overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Houston. It was the latest big-time sports season to be punctuated by a storybook ending.
This upcoming weekend, the NBA will present its All-Star Game and Rising Stars Challenge, the latter a showcase of the NBA’s rising stars. And, you have young stars shining bright across the sports universe, from the NBA’s Anthony Davis to the NFL’s Dak Prescott, from the WNBA’s Breanna Stewart to the NHL’s Wayne Simmonds and baseball’s Mike Trout.
Some of the greatest and most iconic athletes of all time are playing now at championship levels, too, from Brady to Sid Crosby to LeBron James to Serena Williams. In the coaching ranks, Geno Auriemma, Gregg Popovich, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, some of the all-time greatest coaches, are chiseling their faces on the Mount Rushmore of their sports.
And some of the most compelling sports storylines have unfolded in recent years: In the MLB, for example, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs fans, the ultimate true believers, have been delivered from decades in the championship desert by the intelligent design of Theo Epstein, who put together World Series winning teams in both cities.
This is a golden age, with players performing in glittering sports palaces. The sports gods have given fans a cornucopia of sports delights, a valentine to all those who would believe against the odds. Further, because of technology, sports can be followed anytime, from anywhere. The big-time sports are year ’round; fans can get information that cheers or saddens them 24/7. And fans can enter their sports worlds from many different doors and windows, including those framed by cold hard statistics, and those splattered by the mush of sports talk shows that often bring the sensibility and clarity of a middle school food fight to their explorations of the games.
Even if the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus weren’t playing its final shows, it would be clear that big-time sports had long ago replaced the big top as a diversion from the trouble the world is in. Indeed, many decry the nation’s obsession with sports as a waste of economic, intellectual and emotional capital that could be used to address our most enduring problems. Yet, if you look closely, the world’s many challenges parade through our games, like sauntering elephants connected trunk to tail.
Everything that happens in the world resounds in sports, including our nation’s continuing struggles with racism, sexism and anti-gay prejudice and our triumphs over them, like Jackie Robinson breaking the MLB’s color line to Elena Della Donne, a former WNBA MVP coming out as a lesbian.
Come Sunday, NBA fans will be treated to the All-Star Game, which is stylistically rooted in the East-West All-Star Game of the Negro (baseball) Leagues during the 1930s and 1940s: The NBA All-Star Game is almost incidental to the parties that surround it and the style of the fans rivals the style among the players.
The beauty and meanings of contemporary sports are left to the beholders: Those who use sports as a refuge from the world’s problems can use the games and their many splendors as an escape. But others see big-time sports as providing examples of our bridging the things that separate us to achieve victories rooted in teamwork and comity.
No matter what fans seek from the games, they are a gift from the sports gods, a valentine for the true believers and the cynics, a valentine for the champions who swing through the air between defeat and victory for us all.