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STOVALL: May the power of sports teach us to deal with our differences
Gabriel Stovall copy

Sunday Sound Off

I recently bought a new car after trading in my 2006 Ford Five Hundred which I had for nine years and almost 250,000 miles, and as a side benefit to having a reliable, almost brand-spanking new vehicle, I’ve discovered the joys of XM Satellite Radio.

I mean, I had no idea that radio could be so much fun! I take the long way to and from work and back home from wherever I may be now, just to get a few more minutes of radio listening time. I’m hooked, and will pay whatever I need to pay to keep this drive time ear candy going, even after my trial run is up.

But on Wednesday as I got in my car to head to the newspaper office here in Covington, I popped on one of my newfound favorite sports talk radio shows, hoping to chuckle at some playful banter about the outcome of the NBA Finals, when impeccable timing allowed me to hear: “Again, White House majority whip Steve Scalise was shot, and multiple others injured during the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice.”

That was tough enough to hear. But then my heart sunk when I heard the details of how the shooter apparently walked up to Scalise and company and asked if they were Republicans. Presumably they said yes. And as insane as it sounds, that alone was enough to draw gunfire from an obviously troubled and demented individual — to say the least.

It crystalized for me what I consider to be the most volatile political, and in some cases even racial, climate I’ve ever seen in my 37 years of life in this country. To think that someone – regardless of political affiliation – could get so mad at someone else that they’d open fire on them, shooting to kill, simply because of who or what they voted for is just as ridiculous as spewing hatred at someone because of their religion, or their skin color or sexual orientation or anything else.

Disagree? Sure. But hate? Kill? Absolutely not. And listen, I’m not big for choosing sides. I stopped voting strictly partisan when I was 19 years old. I’ve found some of my best friends in the world to be people who look like me and people who don’t look or even always think like I do. Part of the reason why that is, I believe, has to do with the fact that I’ve always been a big sports fan.

I’ve been a sports fan, not just because of the awesome highlight reel plays that leave you speechless, or because of the gaudy statistics that my favorite star players seem able to put up in their sleep. You’ve gotta understand – I cry for sports. I laugh with, and sometimes at sports. I get sad. I get angry. I feel the pain. I embrace the joy and triumph.

Why? Well, I think my one-sentence bio on my Facebook page says it all: Sports is bigger than the game.

For me, sports represents that last bastion of hope for unity among a nation of people full of perceived differences. Whenever I walk into a football stadium or basketball gymnasium to see hundred and thousands of fans from all walks of life rising and falling simultaneously with the fortunes of their favorite team or player on the court or on the field, it makes me hopeful.

I’m hopeful because I see the perfect picture of what unity looks like – of what putting aside differences for a greater purpose than comparing our differences looks like. I see that in sports like I don’t see it anywhere else – not even in church.

And I’ve often said that I wish I could bottle up the secret sauce to that camaraderie and pour it all out when we discuss politics or race issues or class issues. I wish when we start getting upset I could point back to the Super Bowl, or I could remind us of when it looked like the Bulldogs were one play away from playing for the national title, and say, “Hey, remember that? You didn’t care who I voted for when we were cheering for our team. You didn’t care about my color or my sexual orientation when we were rooting for the Dawgs. Let’s get back to that place!”

Sure, it might sound a little Pollyanna to you. Maybe a little naïve. But I’m far from it. I know our world issues run deeper than a ballgame. But sometimes I think we can take a lesson from the lighthearted moments of life on how to deal with the heavy moments.

For me, and so many others, sports represents that escape from the heaviness that we’re forced to live with after the last out of the baseball game or the final buzzer of the football, soccer or basketball game. And I think that’s why what happened at that congressional baseball team practice truly hurt my heart.

I felt like that last bastion of serenity – that last place where we could forget about our differences and just people…not Black people or White people. Not Republican people or Democrat people…I felt that was being stolen from us.

The show I was listening to on the radio when I found out about Scalise was “Outkick the Coverage” with Clay Travis.

And when I was listening, he spoke something that was so profound to me, that I had to pull over and type it down.

He said that sports is the ultimate unifier. And this is exactly how he said it: “Sports is so powerful a force that it ignites the neurosurgeon and the janitor.”

He said this while lamenting that even such a great unifier as sports couldn’t keep the hate out on that painful Wednesday morning.

But maybe – just maybe, it was still able to do its job. Later on Wednesday as I read an article from The New York Times about the shooting, the Times gave me yet another money quote that I’ll take with me as hope.

It came in one of the middle paragraphs of the article: “The tragedy united Republicans and Democrats in shock and anguish. ‘For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,’ Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Wednesday afternoon.”

I felt a little hope come once again. Because I realized sports was still the backdrop of that unity statement by Ryan. Sports was still one of the only places in the world where people passionately holding polar opposite views could come together in one place to smile, laugh and have fun, remembering that the things which unify us can be more powerful than that which separates us.

Notice I said, “can be.” That’s because in order for it to happen – in order for that power to rule over our differences, we – meaning you and I – have to allow it to happen.

In my humble opinion, there are few places where we can learn that lesson of peaceful, purposeful coexistence than in sports. I hope and pray with all my might that we protect the games and sports we love. But that also, the next time we’re sitting next to someone who may be as different from us as night and day, we’ll remember that the same way we can come together in the stadium is the same way we can come together in life.

It may not be as easy, but I believe the energy and camaraderie of the ballgame can show us the way.

At least one can hope.

Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for story tips and ideas at Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1, and follow our sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports.