This past Sunday, ESPN aired an outstanding in-depth piece on Outside the Lines about how high school football has helped heal some of the pain that will be forever felt in Joplin, Mo. This is the town that was devastated by an F5 tornado in May and lost over 160 of its residents.
Joplin High School was essentially wiped off the map by the storm. Students are now attending classes at a nearby mall. But the school’s football field, which was off-campus, remained mostly intact and allowed for players to practice and eventually play football there. The story was narrated by the Joplin Eagles’ head coach and members of the team. They all said that it was their goal to have football bring some stability back to their tattered community.
Over time, sporting events have been shown to be incredible emotional boosts for those who have endured a significant misfortune in their lives. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, playing football and baseball helped bring people together, especially when the New York Mets hosted the first baseball game in the state following that horrific day. When Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans upside-down in 2005, football fans rallied around the New Orleans Saints – a team that was experiencing success for the first time in years. Quarterback Drew Brees seemed to be someone everyone looked up to at the time, and Brees has gained a reputation for helping others in the New Orleans community.
The fact that sports can unite a group of people in need of some good news is an interesting concept. It just goes to show how fun and exciting athletics can be. Whether it’s the play on the field, the mascot dancing to a song blaring on the loudspeakers, the cheerleaders throwing each other in the air or any other entertaining element of a game, it is a time when everyone in a community can gather in one place and have a great time. It also gives people a place to go and temporarily forget about some of the stresses of life that we all experience. For those in Joplin, these stresses have reached terribly high levels over the last few months. That is why they are so glad to have something to cheer about now.