On days like the Super Bowl, as fun as they are — it’s hard for working/struggling artists not to shake their head, at least a little, about the millions, even billions, of dollars worshipfully spent on sports. It’s hard not to think about all the kids who could get music funded in their inner-city school, or who could be inspired by their first museum or play on a school field trip, with such money, if only a portion were directed to different values and priorities.
But at the same time, for someone like me, who grew up with both the arts (playing violin and acting in plays) and sports (playing softball and watching pro baseball), I can’t help but think about how connected they are, and how rich life is when we embrace both.
“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (Art is Long, Life is Short)
The arts represent our vision for life here and beyond; our dreams and destiny; our realities and ideals. They accomplish this with stories and songs, images and characters that capture our world and our lives as nothing else can.
But the arts are not just about the actual stories/images/sounds presented; they are about how our own lives relate — the story, painting or symphony helps us think about our own situations, choices and needs differently. They show us another way to deal with things, just when we thought there was no other way.
“Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” – UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden
Similarly, sports is a performance, with an audience. It’s theater, with its rituals, sights and sounds. It’s often poetry in motion. And at its best, sport is about showing people excellence. Like the arts, sports are never just about sports — they, too, are about the people behind the game: their hearts, minds and characters, their families, illnesses, the challenges they’ve overcome, the way they keep coming back. Sports are about finishing well. And as we watch, we think of our own lives, our own obstacles. A great performance can remind us that we, too, can make it through if we perservere.
At the end of the day, both the arts and sports are about overcoming conflict: both are about man versus antagonistic forces, and how he deals with those forces. How he learns and grows from them, whether there is a victory/happy ending or not. Both take us on a journey where we are eager to find out what happens at the end.
Artists can learn much from the boldness and discipline of professional sportspeople — how hard they work, how they faithfully stick to routines to reach benchmarks of success, how they work within a team and respect their peers and leaders instead of being their own island.
Similarly, athletes and coaches can learn much about themselves and others when they embrace literature, art and music. They can learn how to understand people vastly different from themselves; how to recognize, empathize, and deal with any type of personality or situation; how to encourage a peer with a timeless quote and bring the best out of them — all invaluable assets when you are on a team.
Perhaps that’s also why stories or movies about sports have been so memorable and compelling — because they combine the best of both worlds. John Updike’s essays on Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Films like Chariots of Fire. Rocky. A League of Their Own. Brian’s Song. Rudy. Name your favorite.
People, ultimately, want to be inspired. They want to see their fellow man/woman at their best, so that they can be reminded of what’s possible for themselves.
Finally, both the arts and sports are about surrendering to something beyond ourselves. Whether we are dedicating ourselves to God, a team, a production, a message, or any big-picture purpose, we are most fully who we were meant to be when we devote ourselves to a purpose larger than our little sphere of life.
The arts and sports both remind us of that.