Heroes and Legends

Something I wrote for class. It’s very raw so please let me know what you think so I can improve it. I worry it sounds too whimsical and motivational speech-esque.

Heroes and Legends


I am a Yankees fan. My brother Jonathan once observed that I seem to take every loss personally, while seeming ambivalent about the wins. He said that the losses hurt much more than the wins healed. I wasn’t sure how to respond. He was right. When my teams lose I carry it with me all day, while if they win I quickly look ahead to the next game. Why? Why do I follow something so religiously that at times it seems to dominate my life? It can often control my moods, and make or break my day. Many times, I have sworn that sports will be the death of me.

So why? Why do we follow sports? What is it about these games? What is sport?

We watch sports for the moments of triumph and the despair of defeat. We watch for arms raised in ecstasy, and for heads bowed in disappointment. For throats of individuals screamed sore and the hearts of cities trampled on and broken.

We are fans for a special shared sense of community. Two people of different race, language, sex and creed could cross on a street and share a simple nod as they eye each other’s black hats with the white interlocking ‘NY.’

We sit white-knuckled for alley oops and plays at the plate. For interception returns that could… go… all… the… way, and breakaway goals as the crowd stands in anticipation. We explode for walk off home runs in the bottom of the ninth, and for half court shots as the buzzer sounds. We hug strangers for golden goals by the greats and hail Marys from 60 yards.

We watch sports to see people become more than just an athlete. We watched as Native American Jim Thorpe dominated the traditional white powers of professional football. As Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron endured death threats, and their teammates, white and black, stood by them. We cheered Wilma Rudolph, for showing all you boys that girls can run too, and faster than you.

It can be awfully simple at times. Sometimes sports are about the names and nicknames. Elroy Crazy Legs Hirsch and Mordecai Three-Finger Brown. The Yankee Clipper and the Splendid Splinter. The Great One and the Kid. For all the Leftys and Pee Wees scrapping to the top.

We watch for underdog stories and dynasties years in the making. We watch for the little guy and the Greatest of All Time. All we, the fans, ask is that you give us your all and we will adore you for it. Our favorites aren’t always the best; we hold a special place for the ones who never give up, who always come up big when the lights shine the brightest.

That’s why sport is about running out every single groundball, on the tiny odds that the fielder makes the bad throw. It’s about a runner churning his legs for extra yardage in garbage time. It’s about a backup point guard diving for a loose ball as the buzzer rings when his team is down by 40.

Sometimes sports are joyful and are simply a game played by adults. But sometimes, that same game is more than just a game, and those men and women can stir our hearts.

As a nation mourned and a city struggled to rebuild, we see these men and women, streaking out on the field adorned in red, white and blue. We see our president, our representative to the world, stand on a grass and dirt diamond, give us all a thumbs-up, and then throw a strike that was much more than a strike.

We watch in silent awe as one athlete stands on a podium far from home, his black gloved fist, raised above a bowed head. A silent and dignified sign of protest against bigotry. Tears leak from our eyes as a city was torn apart by water and wind, and a dome full of homeless Louisianans took refuge in the stadium, and took heart from the team and the game they love.

Sports are also about the greatest ones; the ones that we tell our grandkids about in hushed tones. Like Mariano Rivera taking the mound as Enter Sandman echoes throughout the stadium. Or Michael Jordan dribbling at the top of the key, as the game clock ticks down and the defender gulps in fear. We stand in expectation as Mario Lemieux gliding in to the offensive zone, puck on his blade, only the goalie to beat, or as the fuzzy yellow tennis ball seems to hang in the air for so long above Pete Sampras before dropping down to his accelerating racket.

Sports are about brotherhood. It’s about a group of people, be they eleven on a pitch at Wembley, nine on a diamond in the Bronx, or five on a blacktop court in Harlem, coming together for a common cause. It’s about sacrificing everything you have. Tired high-fives slapped as teammates backpedal on defense or a simple fist bump after a successful sacrifice fly.

Sports are about not believing what you just saw, and about believing in miracles.

Perhaps for sports more than anything else, the movies have it right. They speak the truth, because if you build it, they will come. You have to win just one for the Gipper. You have to scratch and claw in the dirt, with your fingernails for that inch, the difference between winning and losing, between living and dying. And you can’t cry; there’s no crying in baseball. Even if you played them 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game. This is your time; now go out there and take it. Remember: heroes get remembered, but legends never die.

So Jonathan, maybe that’s why I watch sports. Because in this modern world, where every square inch of land on Earth has been mapped out, where our quote unquote role models are accountants and lawyers because they pay the bills, sports is our last source of legends. Sports are the final refuge of mystique and aura, of ghosts and history. These men and women rise above simple fame, and their names are spoken in reverent tones. Because in this day and age, we have so many real heroes, but not enough legends.

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