As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The dog days of August deliver a recurring swoon on
the sports calendar. The prior
basketball and hockey seasons are trailing memories; the upcoming seasons
remain months away. Baseball’s playoff
races are just starting to simmer. Golf’s
majors are done. Tennis has nothing to
turn heads. Football is mostly about
fantasy drafts, practice games and ridiculous predictions. To steal a phrase used to describe crappy
albums, it’s all filler with no killer. I
actually caught myself watching a pickleball match and a Canadian Football
League (CFL) game a few weeks ago.
Nothing against pickleball or our pigskin hurling northern neighbors,
but these were not proud moments.
Solace was found, as it often is for middle-age men, in
a Taylor Swift song (epic sarcasm!). The
appropriately titled “August” was the song and its soothing chorus, “But I can
see us lost in the memory, August slipped away into a moment in time.” It did indeed, and with it – September!
Canadian football. Therapeutic Taylor
Swift sing-alongs. Yeah, maybe not my
strongest opening to a “View.”
Whatever. I know this is a safe
space, one without judgment.
Nevertheless, with dignity evaporating, September’s arrival was a
welcomed tonic. And just two weeks in, September
has exploded with real football, an itch for playoff baseball and an epic U.S.
Open that officially marked the arrival of Coco Gauff to tennis’ center
Starting with football, perennial powers LSU, Clemson
and Alabama already have losses. As do
the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Deion Sanders, a phenomenal source of fun and
intrigue for college football, has backed up his bombast by leading Colorado to
a 2-0 start. For Washington football
fans, it’s like spring has arrived, the windows in a cold, dank house have been
opened and fresh air is pouring in. In
baseball, the Yankees and Red Sox are “battling” for last place, the Mets stink
and the Orioles appear poised for a deep October run – gimme all of that, all
As for Gauff, what’s to say? She was brilliant in winning the U.S. Open
and in realizing the promise she has flashed; Gauff now sits on the throne of
What if it was suggested that these on-field/on-court
accomplished paled in comparison to the clarity, hope and power of what has
happened off the fields of play? Remove
the question: that is the suggestion.
First and last: what I’m about to say does not
diminish the athletic accomplishment of team or individual. Scoreboards produce joy and anguish, they
challenge, validate and build legacies.
But in the end, the scoreboard is just the result of a completed
competition; it is merely an aspect of sports and, arguably, a supporting storyline
to a more significant narrative.
Hear me out.
What precedes the kickoff of every NFL game? The national anthem: a few moments to pause,
breath and reflect on our nation’s history, the state of our fragile democracy,
our shared cause, threats to our freedom and the amazing place Americans call
home. After games, players can be seen
shaking hands, embracing, maybe even trading jerseys – all acknowledgements of
a shared grind and an appreciation for the opportunity and elite competition.
As for Gauff, the incredibly simplistic reaction would
be to laud her as the latest tennis phenom to validate the hype with a major
championship victory. That conclusion
would neglect the more profound: poise and maturity far beyond her 19 years,
the inspiration she attributes to trailblazers Serena and Venus Williams, and
the instant-influence she has on young girls nationwide, be they tennis players
This all to suggest that when consuming sports, keep one eye on the scoreboard and another on the magic that happens on the periphery of the competition itself. After the joy of wins and the pain from losses fades, how sports bind, how they inspire, how they remind us of our shared human experience – this is the stuff that fascinates, that educates and informs, that makes us fans for life. And, I’d argue, it’s why watching a pickleball match or a CFL game on a sleepy August night is time well spent.