Sport and Society for Arete -End of Year Wrap

It is customary for those who work in news and sports to look back on the year as it comes to its close and create lists of the ten best of "this and that." Others chronicle "the good, the bad, and the ugly" of the year just ending. It is in many ways a silly exercise as no qualitative shift takes place when one year ends and a new one begins.

Despite my reservations I will join this exercise by looking back on the year as I wrote about it in this space. There is no claim that these things were significant in any special way other than they caught my eye at a particular moment and at the time it seemed interesting, even if not all that important.

The Sport and Society year opened with a movie review of "Concussion" prompting a discussion of the NFL's dismal history on this issue. The film got mixed reviews and certainly it was not as good as the book, but it did provide an accurate critique of the NFL, and a decent summary of the concussion issue in The League.

Not entirely surprising was the now historic season of the Chicago Cubs. The first appearance of the Cubs in this column came during spring training. At the first game of the Cubs Cactus League circuit, the great Cub pitcher, Ferguson Jenkins, led the crowd in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Before he started the tune he shouted out, "This is the Year." This was a daring act and a bold prediction, but expectations for the Cubs were sky high. The crowd exploded and the noise swept across the Arizona desert, and ultimately across the nation.

The next Cubs appearance in the column came in the fall. In mid-October as I was heading off to Italy I speculated on what might be coming. Would this be the end of the 108 year drought? Would five generations of Cub fans finally see a World Championship for their "lovable losers?" If the Cubs did win then what? Armageddon?

The Cubs had been down this road several times previously and always something human or divine intervened. Perhaps there was a curse? Probably not. But then it had been a long time since the Cubs were World Champions. It seemed by this time a bit more likely that this really was "The Year," as Ferguson Jenkins had proclaimed almost seven months previously.

Returning from Italy the night of Game Six of the World Series, during the 5th inning to be precise, it seemed the Cubs might do it. Of course they were still the Cubs, game seven was yet to be played, and the power of history, or whatever, still might intervene, or so it seemed, given the roller coaster ride of the late innings of Game Seven. It really wasn't over until it was over, and when it was over, WOW.

This has to be the sports story of the year at least in Chicago and for Cub fans everywhere across the world.

Three deaths in sports also found their way into the column. Each of them was of particular significance. The death of Muhammed Ali in early June brought memories of all sorts. There was Ali the boxer with his speed and showmanship and his amazing ring record as heavyweight champion.

There was Ali the celebrity and showman, not to mention poet. There was Ali the social symbol reminding one and all of the significant role that race plays in American life.

And of course there was Ali the political protester and public agitator who was loved and hated by his fellow countrymen, and loved by his fans across the globe. Ali's conversion to the Nation of Islam, the stand against the war, and on through to his lighting of the Olympic Flame in Atlanta, came rolling back to memory. His life spanned our lives, and his death reminded us of both his and our lives.

The second death was that of Jose Fernandez, the superb pitcher for the Miami Marlins, whose backstory captured the imagination, not just of the Cuban population of Miami, but of us all. His energy and enthusiasm while playing the game was wonderful to share with him. He was killed in late September on the eve of the World Series. The report on the cause of the boating accident that came well after the World Series, offered another reason to look at the A.E. Houseman poem, "To An Athlete Dying Young."

The third death, announced the day after that of Jose Fernandez, was that of Arnold Palmer who transformed golf into a game of the masses and a television game of considerable popularity. Arnie's Army became part of the legend of Palmer's charge to victory on the back nine on Sundays in many major tournaments. Palmer's association with Mark McCormack spawned the Sports Marketing giant, IMG, with its trans-formative impact on the world of sport at all levels and in all facets of the games we watch and play.

Other notable events were the Olympic Games in Rio that were surrounded in controversy and predictions of disaster. The latter didn't materialize and the games were proclaimed a success and the best ever, as they always are.

The Super Bowl got its usual attention in this column as did other matters, NFL, including the movement of the Rams to Los Angeles. This led to a short history of the Rams in professional football, in and outside of Los Angeles.

The other issue that attracted a good deal of interest and controversy across the American sports nation was use of The National Anthem by athletes as a means to protest social and political issues. This issue received more attention during this year than ever before, as athletes became involved in protests over a number of issues. The controversy was stronger than ever before because of the growing practice of sports organizations to wrap themselves in the flag and to stress their support for the military.

After coming to the fore over Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the National Anthem, the general subject got another wave of attention with the release of the film, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," based on a novel of the same name.

These were some of my favorite topics that I dealt with this year, although there were many more worthy of our collective attention.

On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau wishing you a Happy New Year and reminding you that you don't have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.

Copyright 2016 by Richard C. Crepeau