American culture is dominated by sports.
From some the earliest years, many American’s are placed in sports. Data from polls conducted by ESPN in 2013 says over 21.5 million children ages 6 to 17 participate in sports.
27% of American adults spent 6-10 hours a week watching the NFL according to the Harris Poll. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, over 32 million Americans spent $15 billion on fantasy sports as well as 8.67 hours a week consuming fantasy sports.
Even when their playing days are over, many Americans trudge out onto a frozen field for the annual turkey bowl.
For the majority of Americans, the rite of passage is paved with sports.
Our obsession with sports and the role they play in society can be narrowed down to four main pillars gathered from interviews with seven Boise State athletes and coaches.:
1. Sports teaches life skills
2. Sports teaches character
3. Sports provides a family
4. Sports provides an emotional escape
Of the seven Boise State athletes and coaches interviewed for this story, five said that they have applied skills they have learned from sports in their everyday lives.
“I think after someone gets out of sports its role in society would be the skills it gives you—time management, dedication and determination,” gymnastics junior Maddie Krentz said. “Those things will lead to somebody in the workforce or wherever going better because of what they learned in sports.”
Assistant women’s soccer coach Maite Zabala said that sports has been used on an international level to empower individuals, particuarly women.
“Sports in general (are) pretty empowering when you take a chance to learn something and work as a team,” Zabala said. “If you empower women, and a lot of times they talk about doing that through sports, more empowering of women equals much more developed and stable societies.”
Sports has provided countless situations to teach an individual lessons of character.
Zabala believes that sports primarily reveals one’s character, but the most important aspect is it offers a lesson on ethics.
“I think that people’s character can be exposed in difficult times,” Zabala said. “Difficult times can also allow someone to step up and learn how to do things the right way. I think it’s a little bit of both.”
Junior punter Sean Wale agrees that sports has provided countless role models throughout his life. Wale argues this is a double-edged sword, however.
“It builds that character that is needed throughout life and a lot of athletes are really looked up to. I don’t know if that’s how it should be,” Wale said. “I know where I was from, there would be people who grew up not playing sports and they’d kind of get into more trouble.”
The case of Antoine Turner provided the perfect narrative of sports providing an individual with a basic human need—stability.
Turner was homeless until Boise State was able to offer him financial assistance following an NCAA waiver.
“My team just means family,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Steven Baggett said. “We’re all just trying to get better each day and every day.”
Head cross country and track and field coach Corey Ihmels added that he has been shaped by those he has competed with.
“I think (sports) shapes who you are,” Ihmels said. “The people that you meet and the ones that you are around, they shape who you are and the path that you go down. I’m not doing what I’m doing today without quite a few people (I’ve met from sports).”
Distance runner Marisa Howard loves sports because of the unscripted moments. Anything can happen on any given day.
From the 1980 Miracle on Ice, to one-legged Anthony Robles winning an NCAA wrestling title or the success of Boston sports in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, sports has provided an escape for our society.
“I feel like it’s such a raw form of entertainment,” Howard said. “We always talk about just those amazing moments that you can’t script and how much pure joy winning a championship or making that goal—you can’t script that stuff.”
Krentz added that her career in gymnastics has provided her an escape from the trials and tribulations of life.
“One of my friends earlier this year said this perfectly, ‘Gymnastics is our church,’” Krentz said. “It’s where we go for everything and it’s always super helpful. It’s like our own little getaway.”