Watching the baseball league championship games, I am reminded of some of the functions sports play in our society. I am wearing my lucky Royals cap. It became my lucky hat this year when the team improved enough to get into the playoffs. Last year and in the years before that it was apparently not lucky enough.
In social situations people have commented on my cap. Last year few, if any, people talked to me about it. Having a team in the playoffs, allows strangers to talk to me about the team. We share a common interest. In a small way it is like a family with an infant eating in a restaurant, the presence of the baby encourages others to stop by their table ask questions and make supportive remarks.
I know from my work as a psychologist that people who feel isolated can chat with others about sports and get a degree of acceptance ordinarily not easily found.
Having a winning team elates the spirits of those who live in the area the team is associated with. Many people have played sports in the past or they still play. We identify with sports figures who strive without knowing whether or not they will succeed.
We admire people who can accomplish difficult tasks, especially if they do things with skill and élan.
Sports allow the expression of aggression, within relatively safe settings. Sports figures are sometimes mythologized as heroes and treated in ways that used to be reserved for warriors. We assume they have characteristics we value in other spheres of life. Expectations can be unrealistic. Being an athlete does not excuse bad behavior and we do the athlete no good by making excuses for him or her.
Sports allow socially approved expression of emotion. Men, by tradition, have limited acceptable opportunities to let their feeling out. An increasing number of women are involved in amateur and professional sports. I think this is expanding what is considered socially appropriate for women.
I’m not at all sure playing sports develops character. I believe it is one setting where character may, or may not develop while dealing with success and failure. I think there are many others. I definitely believe that character is revealed by sports.
In our society Sports provide an opportunity for dissimilar people to communicate. For example in the movie City Slickers one of the characters commented that during extended conflict with his father about the war in Viet Nam sports were the only thing they could discuss without arguing.
Talking about sports is infinitely better than not talking at all.