Slightly Enumerated: Things I Learned from Sports

Lessons that lift our spirits, and others that crush them all over again.

I grew up playing sports — baseball in the spring, soccer and basketball in the fall. (No football, though; my mother worried I was too small for it, and my concussion-less brain thanks her.) In between organized sports, I’d enjoy playing pick-up games in the funeral home parking lot next door. These days, my most athletic activity usually involves nachos and a recliner, but those early experiences left a big impression.

And in all those years of playing in and watching various sporting events, there are certain life lessons I learned. Some sports lessons lift you up, giving you hope in mankind. Some lessons knock you on your ass, making you worry that there is nothing good in the world.

So, with the inescapable Super Bowl nearly upon us, here’s what you too can learn from sports:

5. Always Play the Entire Game

Reggie Miller schools the Knicks in 1995I have seen some amazing things in my life — dolphins leaping from the sea, a student understanding fractions, the “Saved By the Bell” episode when Jessie takes speed — but nothing as amazing as sports comebacks, especially those which come at the last minute. I’ve seen Reggie Miller kill the Knicks with threes. I’ve seen the Tennessee Titans lateral their way down the field. Keep playing the game or you will find yourself the loser.

I have told myself that whatever I do in my life, I will not give up. When all hope seems lost, there are chances to succeed. And hard work will always pay off. I’ve seen it happen.

In 2001, I was a freshman in college watching a college basketball game with two friends. With less than a minute remaining, Duke was down 10 points to one of their rivals, the University of Maryland. My friends decided to mock and deride me. Much to our surprise, we watched Duke score 10 straight points (eight of them by one player in a matter of 13 seconds). The game went into overtime, and Duke went on to win. Did I mock them? Did I deride them? No.

Which brings me to my next point.

4. Never Gloat

Never, ever gloat. It will come back to haunt you. This lesson actually brings me solace. Whenever I go to a baseball game and hear a fan cursing or bragging, I always think that fan will cost his team a game. I call it sports karma. A gloating fan can cause a team to lose a game. It may not be the particular game that the fan is watching, but one game will be lost because of that fan.

All the losses by every team can be taken back to sports karma. If fans didn’t gloat, teams would never lose. Some teams are still working off their karma from years ago. In 1920, a Bostonian claimed: “My Red Sox will give those Yankees such a ear-boxing that they will defecate in their pantaloons.” That Bostonian inadvertently caused Buckner to let that ball through his legs. Sports karma strikes again.

3. No Matter How Much They Make, Players Need More Money

Athletes make millions. Some, tens of millions. In their lifetimes, they will make hundreds of millions, especially if they go on television and claim that they wear a specific sneaker, or eat cheeseburgers, or use a pill to make their manhood … manhoodier. Despite all this money and fame, these players complain that they still don’t have enough.

Some claim that they should be rewarded for their talent. Some claim that they someday have earned it. Some have the audacity to claim that they need the money to feed their families. (Yes, probably multiple families.)

We hold doctors, police officers, soldiers, and teachers with high regard. They are pretty talented. All those players need the doctors, officers, soldiers, and teachers to reach their potential or protect them. Do the doctors, officers, soldiers and teachers really need the athletes? Not really. Why don’t we take the millions spent on athletes and split it up between all the people that helped him succeed? Because then the athletes would need more.

2. Comebacks

Some comebacks are uplifting. A small town kid gets a horrific injury in college, but 10 years later he works his way up to majors, hits a game winning home run, and is carried off the field on his cheering teammates’ shoulders. See? Uplifting. They would make a movie out of that story, starring Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr.

Photo of Michael Vick courtesy of Business Insider's Sports Page blogYet some comebacks should not have happened. Pro quarterback Michael Vick was convicted and served several years in prison for hosting dog fighting matches, and he served his time, but does that mean that he should get his job back? If I had gone to jail for several years, would I get my job back?

Photo of Ben Roethlisberger courtesy of Bent CornerPittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a girl in a bathroom (allegedly) while members of his entourage prevented her friends from helping her (allegedly). He was suspended for 6 games, which was reduced to four games. Four games for not raping someone (allegedly)!

We can all learn something from this. If we play a sport and have lots of money, we can do anything we want. And in the movie, we will be played by Johnny Depp.

1. Jerks Can Win … and Probably Will

Proof: Vick had an MVP-like season, leading the Philadelphia Eagles — his new team — to the playoffs. Roethlisberger led his team to the Super Bowl (allegedly).

Although, with all those “Terrible Towels,” I smell some sports karma.

Article © 2011 by Mike Meagher