In Troubled Times, the Sports World Offers a Necessary Salve

The rabbi noted how the stories of this month’s Super Bowl would indeed be passed on for generations — like “modern parables.” And mega events like the World Cup or the Super Bowl? Attending those is similar to a spiritual pilgrimage.

Beyond the back-and-forth dramatics on the field, what struck me about attending this last Super Bowl was the unity I witnessed among fans of all kinds. I expected to see more anger and division, and even some fights. Instead, I saw Eagles fans, Kansas City fans and supporters of teams who were not playing, all walking, eating and cheering together.

When Rihanna sang from that airborne platform at halftime, she held sway with the power of an evangelist. It seemed as if all of the 68,000 fans in attendance were swaying together for a while, transported from their troubles.

All is not pristine, of course. As an example, consider Woods. Like so many of our athletes, he was once held up as an example of purity and magnificence. Then came the revelations — his manifold flaws in full view. Even now, as he nears 50, there is a side of him that seems confoundingly juvenile, as we saw this week when he pranked a playing partner with a sexist, frat house move: Here, take this tampon, you play like a girl.

Our favorite athletes have feet of clay, just like the rest of us. They are far from perfect; same for the sports they play or the leagues they are a part of. Scandal seems to go hand in hand with all religions.

“There is an underbelly to sport that cannot be denied,” said Gotham Chopra, a filmmaker who, with the backing of Brady and Michael Strahan, runs the media company Religion of Sports. “It’s like the dichotomy of faith, and the thing is, you don’t have to believe it. You show up at the Super Bowl or the World Cup, and you see it. The sacred and the profane.”

The underbelly is a reminder that nothing in our world is pure.

Luckily, as we’ve been reminded these past few months, the greatest of our athletes and the greatest of our games, however flawed, also have a knack for transcendence that stirs the soul.

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