There are times when events surrounding sport expose sport as an inherently trivial part of society.
In the past year in American Football, there have been two utterly horrific events that have reminded those watching that sports don’t matter as much as we think.
The first of these was the shocking cover up of the frequent child sexual abuse committed by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, which was exposed during the 2011 college football season and forced a considered review of the prevailing culture surrounding football and its place within universities.
The most recent and arguably more shocking, due to its less systematic nature, was the awful events in Kansas City over the weekend.
For those unaware, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins after a domestic dispute and then drove to the Chiefs complex and turned the gun upon himself in full view of team staff, including coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.
As a sporting culture, Kansas City is renowned for its rowdy pre-game festivities and raucous crowds. Tailgate parties involve considerable alcohol consumption and the unique Kansas City style of barbecuing meat. In their game a day later, against the Carolina Panthers, the atmosphere of the game was sombre, of reflection and mourning the loss of two lives.
With heavy hearts, the Chiefs chose to play the game with the entire world understanding if their grief was too much to bear. For Crennel in particular to rally his players despite the traumatic experience he endured is remarkable. This team was shaken to the core by this but it is hopeful already that the healing can begin.
The sight of Chiefs and Panthers unified in their grief was a stirring sight and one that will never be forgotten. The result itself is both insignificant in both the scheme of the NFL and in the entire healing process but for the Chiefs to unite and fulfil the entire purpose of their relationship is a remarkable step.
Romeo Crennel probably won’t remain the coach of the Chiefs thanks to their poor season, but his strength in uniting a heartbroken team shows that he is the finest of men. After enduring an ordeal that would traumatize anybody, his strength of character to unite the Chiefs and to lead them through the game and for the rest of the season should be admired.
The spectre of Belcher’s actions will weigh heavy upon the Chiefs for the rest of the season and for years to come. Crennel acknowledged this and explained to the press, “It still will go on tomorrow, the next day, and the next day. But life is going to go on as well and we have to work through it.”
This Chiefs team will never forget the events of the past weekend and they will define this team for the rest of their lives. This event will lose its raw impact and the lingering image will be of Chiefs and Panthers players lined up in silence and on knees in prayer will be forgotten.
Sadly this was captured by NBC analyst Bob Costas, who offered the rather downbeat observation that the “sort of perspective (gained) has a very short shelf life since we will inevitably hear about the perspective we have supposedly again regained the next time ugly reality intrudes upon our games.”
Something like this will happen again and remind us of the insignificance of sport.
For all that the Kansas City ordeal has to show about the reality of sports in our daily lives, the Indianapolis Colts continue to persevere through their own continuing crisis and remind again of the unique means that sport has to unite an audience under a common cause.
Early in the season Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukaemia. Pagano promptly stepped down as head coach in order to have treatment, handing the reins of the team to assistant Bruce Arians.
The Colts were not expected to do anything significant this season before but after Pagano vacated the head job, something special began to flower in Indianapolis.
Immediately after the news was announced of Pagano’s illness, number one overall draft pick Andrew Luck led the Colts on a stirring comeback against the Green Bay Packers. Since the beginning of ‘ChuckStrong’, the Colts have won seven of nine games and, despite their lack of talent, they are poised to capture a playoff spot.
When Pagano addressed the team after a narrow win over Miami, an insight into the mentality of the Colts and the special place that Pagano has in their locker room was uncovered.
Pagano’s resilience and insistence that his illness is “already beat” sent a shiver down the spine of all those who have seen the footage of his speech.
The statement that his goal was to see his daughters married and to dance at their wedding as well as to win the Super Bowl multiple times was met with an incredible response by his team.
The Colts unity in supporting Pagano in the only way they know how is simply remarkable, but the moment that defined the entire ChuckStrong story was seeing two Colts cheerleaders follow the lead of the players in shaving their heads in solidarity with Pagano. Pagano’s fight has touched everyone connected with the NFL and the Colts are winning admiration for their unity.
Pagano’s fight with cancer and the Chiefs’ response to Belcher’s horrific acts have shown that sports have an ability to unite a group in crisis that few things can.
The Chiefs and the Colts are responding to their own crisis in the only way they can and that is by playing football. The game itself will not make the treatment for Pagano’s illness any more or less effective. The Chiefs win will not bring Kasandra Perkins back nor will it wash away Romeo Crennel’s trauma from seeing Belcher kill himself and the ever present regret that will hound those connected with Belcher.
The point of sports in an ordeal such as this was encapsulated by Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, who in the postgame press conference offered the thought, “as a player, we just want to try to come together a team and try to bring some good to the situation.”
That is all that can be asked for in sports in the aftermath of this, to wash away the stink of Jovan Belcher’s horrific acts, to inspire us or to let us forget.