McCollum’s Column: Sports as a mirror of culture and a change agent

A major powder keg of a bad law was defused as the result of a confrontation between two of the nation’s most powerful organizations that normally operate in separate universes — the Southeastern Conference and the National Rifle Association.

 

We witnessed this week the power of the SEC and the breadth and depth of the sports monster that alternately has a comforting and disconcerting grip upon us.

It’s unfortunately that the ban of concealed-carry weapons in college stadiums and arenas in Arkansas was ultimately decided because of the effect on the Razorbacks and a fear that they could ultimately be banished from the SEC.

The law applied to all public colleges and universities but the spotlight was on the Razorbacks and the possible consequences of allowing guns in UA stadiums and arenas. Even though the Southland Conference and the Sun Belt weighed in opposition to the bill, I’m sure Friday’s vote to amend in the Arkansas Senate and House would have been much closer and might have failed if not SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and UA football coach Bret Bielema (on recruiting aspects) had not voiced their concerns.

It’s unfortunate that the other state colleges and universities were generally side items in the debate.

And speaking of items overshadowed by the giant Hog icon, there were hospitals and daycares involved. Yeh, them too.

But mainly, it’s unfortunate that college and university presidents, administrators, faculty and security officers — who are on the front line of dealing with quirks and qualms of young adults and see the alternate agony and ecstasy of relationships, academic pressures and life circumstance every day — had their concerns generally brushed aside by the proposal to allow, with eight hours of special training, guns on college campuses. Colleges and universities in Arkansas have different personalities and missions but reflected unanimity in opposing the legislation because of the possible consequences of a ticking time bomb on multiple leves.

A highly controversial issue came down basically to a bigtime sports concern.

And, almost concurrently, the state of North Carolina overturned its controversial bathroom bill because of possibly continuing consequences with the NCAA.

But that’s not unique to our culture.

Sports has often led to seismic changes to our way of life.

Baseball in general, and Jackie Robinson in particular, led to changes in civil rights and a heightened sense of racial equality. A exhibition tennis match in 1973 between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King was an avenue toward gender equality and the creation of Title IX. Tragic crashes involving NASCAR drivers have led to improvements in our everyday vehicles. The sport of Ping-Pong led to improved diplomatic relations with China during the Nixon Administration.

Until the 1960s, Mississippi college teams were not allowed to compete against teams with African-American players. Probably Mississippi State’s best men’s team had to sneak out of the state undercover in 1963 to play an NCAA tournament game against predominantly black Loyola of Chicago in a game that changed society as did Texas-El Paso’s victory over all-white Kentucky for the NCAA title in 1966.

Sunday, Mississippi State’s women, with a predominantly black lineup, will play for the NCAA women’s title.

Several people have related to me how gripping, exciting and inspiring it was to watch Mississippi State end UConn’s 111-game winning Friday after getting embarrassed by the Huskies by 60 points the year before. That’s the feel-good elixir that sports can generate that can turn a bad day into a good day. That’s the healing drug the better angels of the sports monster dispense.

Sports provides a window to our personalities that often go deep to the core. It brings to the surface characteristics that can divide us but at their best, unite us. When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, Cubs fans joined hands and soul regardless of race, gender, religion and political differences. During the height of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, I watched two individuals on completely opposite sides politically, and particularly how they viewed the war and the resulting political climate, hug each other after watching the New York Mets win the World Series.

We treat sports as we want life to be. We want sports to reflect our best and utmost ideals. When they don’t, we now create fantasy leagues and fantasy teams to better conform to what we want them to be.

Sports force us to challenge ourselves — our pride, our philosophies, our relationships, our fears and the realities of our world. Our love of sports vs. hate of sports invites analytical thinking.

At their best throughout history, sports have led us to broader and larger debate on issues and propel people to talk to each other. Conversation could lead to a better realization of who we really are as opposed to who were are or are fearful of becoming.

So, with complexities of safety (practically and philosophically), games will go on

So, hopefully, will conversations — with the emphasis, not on a scoreboard, but how we can function and get along peacefully for the good of everybody.

 

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