January 23, 2007

Sports Bridge All Barriers

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Despite my excitement to be on my first full-fledged family trip in close to a decade, I still could not be at least a little disappointed by missing out on spending New Year’s Eve with friends in Chicago. However, even with these hesitations, the night still turned into one of my most unique experiences, as well as a strong testament to the power of sports.

Seated next to a middle-aged Mexican couple at the dinner-dance hosted by our hotel in Argentina, I initially hoped that the combination of champagne and jet lag would help put an early end to what looked to be a quiet, uneventful night. That all changed, however, after politely asking my tablemates what they did for a living.

With just that one simple question, the three of us were launched into an intense, genuine two-hour conversation on sports. As manufacturers of soccer balls and jerseys — not to mention avid fans of the sport as well — Carlos and Rosie eagerly shared their opinions on the World Cup, Zinedine Zidane and the popularity of the sport worldwide. As the conversation meandered into talking about the sports I played and watched, we shared a laugh over my pathetic collegiate crew career and friendily chided each other about our national soccer teams.

Eventually interrupted by the New Year’s countdown and the subsequent dancing, I could not let go of how easy it was to bond with the couple over sports. That despite a language barrier, an age difference and even with seemingly nothing else in common, sports could be used as a platform with which to forge camaraderie.

I’m not going to lie — I’m sure our continuously filled wine glasses helped the conversation a little bit. The fact that I was woken up by a maid after passing out pants-less in the hallway speaks to the fact that I was more than a little buzzed. But, the fact remains that by talking about sports not only upgraded my New Year’s Eve experience but created friendships as well.

Since returning to Ithaca, the bonding power of sports has continued to amaze me. From watching the NFL playoffs to playing pick-up basketball at the new Noyes to cheering on the Red at Lynah, I have not found an easier way to find new friends and reconnect with the old.

Further, the intriguing aspect of this concept is that you don’t have to be on the same side for sports to have this effect. Yeah, it was nice to wear my Bears jersey to Rulloff’s after beating the Seahawks a little over a week ago and celebrate with other Chicago fans. At the same time, it can even be more fun when rapport is formed with your opposition. Whether it comes from joking about how out-of-shape you are or arguing over the better looking starting NFL quarterback — that’s how some of my female colleagues were picking their favorite teams.

Now, I will admit there are times when the power and influence of sport can be a little too strong. The fact that the fourth child to be named ESPN — spelled in all capital letters no less — was born in October is a cause for concern. Further, the recent news that one Bears fan convinced his wife to induce labor this past Friday so that the birth of their child wouldn’t interfere with Sunday’s NFC championship game might be taking things a little too far.

Though, I got to admit that if I had tickets for the game and was in the same situation, it would not be easy to pass on that idea.

Nevertheless, sports, or even just a team, can have a magical power to it. I don’t think anybody can deny how much the success of the New Orleans Saints this season has personified the recovery of its home city as well as the spirit of its residents. Meanwhile, I recently traded emails with an ex-girlfriend in which we joked about who’s the better golfer. It reminded us of a time when we felt closer to each other — more than anyone else in the world.

With this in mind — and the fact that I am usually horrible at keeping in touch with people — I invite you all to adopt my New Year’s resolution to reach out to friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Even if that bond has faded, call them up to watch the Super Bowl, play some basketball or even challenge them to a game of Beirut — which may feel like the official sport of college at times. I think you’ll be amazed at how easy it will be to rebuild your relationships.

Scott Reich is a Sun Staff Writer. Scotty Doesn’t Know will appear every other Tuesday this semester.