The Healing Power of Sports

A month after Pearl Harbor, baseball’s owners were scrambling. At a time when so much in the world appeared unknown and dangerous, was it worth continuing to play ball? During World War I, the MLB season had been cancelled, and for guidance as to whether the 1941 season would suffer a similar fate, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis petitioned the president. He sent a handwritten letter to the White House, noting, “The time is approaching when, in ordinary conditions, our teams would be heading for spring training camps. However, inasmuch as these are not ordinary times, I venture to ask what you have in mind as to whether professional baseball should continue to operate.”

President Roosevelt responded immediately, and his letter was front page news across the country. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he said. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

As a result, baseball continued throughout the war, even as stars like Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg were drafted into service, and indeed, Roosevelt was right. Baseball was a welcome respite from the grim newsreels; by 1945, attendance had climbed to its highest mark in MLB history.

Baseball provided a sense of normalcy, as well as an escape. It’s a role that sports so frequently play in our society: At the reopening of the SuperDome after Katrina, New Orleans was jolted back to life when Steve Gleason blocked a punt on Monday Night Football. “There’s something about waking up in a community that is thinking the same thing—that is feeling, if only for a moment, as if we had all just accomplished something together,” wrote Chris Rose in the New Orleans Times-Picayune following that game. “‘Only a game,’ you say? Like hell it was.”

And that’s why the current stream of depressing news has been especially disheartening. It’s times like these when we lean on sports the most, but because of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, attending sporting events have become something of a risky business. Sports are special because they bring tens of thousands of people with vastly different backgrounds together to enjoy a game. So now what are we supposed to do?

It’s easy to look at the news and feel hopeless. The NBA is cancelled and so is March Madness. The NHL is suspended until further notice, Opening Day is delayed for two weeks, and it’s not clear when the dominoes will stop falling. What happens to The Masters? The Olympics? Can we even play pick up with friends? Sports have always been about healing, though, and if you look a little closer, you’ll see that they’re still doing just that.

Throughout the past several days, athletes have proven that sports still bring out the best we have to offer, inspiring us and most importantly, helping us forget–if only for a few hours–everything else there is to worry about in the world.

Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Keeping the Faith

Sometimes, the whole religion and sports connection just writes itself. At the orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University in Manhattan, you’ll find one of the most peculiar and lovable basketball teams in the nation. They’re called—of course—the Maccabees. They wear kippahs on the court, they don’t play during Shabbat, and yes, they keep kosher. They read the Torah on the court before every game, and fans sing chants in Hebrew. They’re also really, really good.

The Macs, as they’re called, just won their first Division III Tournament game in school history. Then, they won their second, and now, they’re in the Sweet Sixteen. Best of all, there’s reason to have faith that they’ll keep on winning, too. Why? Those two tournament victories extended their school-record win streak to 29.

The Macs look to advance to the Elite Eight later today, at 2 PM EST against Randolph-Macon College. 

Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images for Women’s Sports Foundation

Maya Moore’s Higher Calling

There are really no historical comparisons to what Maya Moore has done over the past 12 months, and there may be no greater champion in sports. At 30, in her prime and one of the WNBA’s marquee players, Moore walked away from everything last year. She said she felt a calling from God to help a man who, through volunteer work, she had come to consider a close friend. Jeremy Irons had been behind bars for 23 years—since he was 16—serving a 50-year sentence for a burglary he swore he didn’t commit. Moore decided to take a hiatus from basketball to do everything in her power to get her friend freed.

This week, she did just that, when a Missouri judge vacated the guilty verdict as new evidence had come to light. “It feels like we are holding up that Final Four trophy,” Moore said leaving the courtroom. Irons, for his part, told the New York Times, “It feels like I can just breathe, like the weight of the world is off of me, like I have the chance to live.” Perhaps next year, he’ll travel to a Minnesota Lynx game, and all will be right in the world: He will be free, and Moore will be lighting up the scoreboard.

So Let It Be Written 

Tim Anderson Is Here to Save Baseball From Itself

By Tyler Kepner • New York Times

Ahead of Opening Day, the bat-flipping, outspoken shortstop of the Chicago White Sox talks about how he plans to win Chicago back from the Cubs, become the best player in the Major Leagues, and never, ever take a walk. As he says, “I ain’t in there to wait around.”

The Game Inside the Game

By Emma Healy • Hazlitt

A joyful examination of one of the most fun parts of any basketball game: the halftime show.

Lakers’ JaVale McGee Draws Inspiration From His Mom’s Trailblazing USC Career

By Kyle Goon • Orange County Register

It’s no surprise that siblings Javale and Pam McGee play in the NBA and WNBA respectively. It’s in their genes. This is the story of their mother, who after a Hall of Fame career, is finally getting the respect she deserves with the release of a new HBO documentary about the USC teams for which she starred.

AJ Mast / NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Josh Speidel’s Perfect Layup

Five years ago, Josh Speidel was in a coma when his basketball coach visited him in the hospital. He’d been the University of Vermont’s prized recruit before a car accident jeopardized any chance of ever playing again. While Speidel lay unconscious, coach John Becker promised his parents that the school would honor his scholarship, no matter what.

Speidel is now a redshirt senior on track to graduate from UVM in May. He’s recovered well enough to go to school, but was told he could never play basketball again. His teammates, however, had a different opinion and hatched a plan for Senior Day. They drew up a special play to make sure Speidel could score his first college basket.

Before the game against Albany, the Catamounts practiced the play over and over to make sure nothing went wrong. Then, right after tip-off, they brought the ball up the court, passed the ball around, and there was Speidel in the paint, ready to sink his layup. When it went in, the PA announcer roared, and his teammates embraced him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous for a layup, but it’s my first layup in five years,” Speidel told the New York Times after the game. “My dad joked with me. He said, ‘You could always miss it, grab a rebound and add to your stats a little.’ I thought about that. But then I figured I might as well end my college career shooting 100 percent.”

Mark Thompson / Getty Images

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words…

How cool is this? In a warm-up before the F1 Grand Prix of Australia in Melbourne, Alexander Albon competed in the “Red Bull Cooler Runnings” race, weaving his motorized ice box through a course that included hazards like beach chairs and blow up pools. We just hope he didn’t shake up the drinks too much before reaching the finish line.

Old School

The Boxer and the Blonde (1985)

By Frank Deford • Sports Illustrated 

When asked to pick the greatest story in Sports Illustrated history a few years back, many staffers pointed to this Frank Deford masterpiece. It’s a fairy tale about boxing, romance, and a lost time and place, and every time we read it, we can’t help but smile.

Last Words

“The sports we love are not a dip into the waters of Lourdes. They’re a bandage, a salve, a plaster cast on a broken arm. They don’t heal us by themselves. They give us protection and time so we can heal on our own.” –Tommy Tomlinson