Chicago is in crisis mode. It has become the face of gun violence in America. Schools are closing down and Chicago Public Schools is on the verge of making massive layoffs in the wake of budget cuts. Chicago is still number one in political corruption in the nation. Prisons are at or over capacity, and there seems to be no end in sight for the list of problems the city faces.
But hey, the Cubs just clinched.
I was in Wrigleyville last Friday night on my way to McDonald’s when a stranger stopped me. Normally this would be scary, but he said the magic words that would make any person my friend: “Hey, did you know the Cubs made the playoffs tonight?”
It was high-fives and shouts all around.
In a city that is highly segregated by class, race and neighborhoods, there are few things that can unite Chicago. Sports is one of them.
To explain it psychologically, sports establish a superordinate goal. In 1954, Muzafer Sherif ran an experiment at a summer camp that involved splitting campers into two opposing groups. Sherif wanted to find out if it would be possible to make the two groups work together and decrease hostility. He finally realized that he had to give the campers a task with an overall goal that they all could work toward together.
To explain it anecdotally, this June, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. In a man-on-the-street interview, one fan proclaimed that the Blackhawks were so good that “they even got black people loving hockey.”
Aside from the humor in the man’s blunt statement while he was live on the air, the statement pointed at a genuinely beautiful truth about sports. They bring together people of all backgrounds in pursuit of a common goal: the Stanley Cup, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, etc.
This is why the Olympics are so great for the United States. As long as Chicago’s list of issues is, they’re just a microcosm for the greater issues that plague our nation. However, for two weeks every two years (yes, I 100 percent think the Winter Olympics are just as important as the Summer Games), the country forgets that we lead the world in incarcerated citizens per capita and focuses on the common goal of bringing home the gold.
I recognize it’s kind of messed up that forgetting about our problems and major issues is a goal. Maybe we shouldn’t forget that a huge number of children in our country go to bed starving while we throw away tons of perfectly good food. But at the same time, in a weird sort of messed up way, we need a win. We need to hoist the gold and have something to be proud of.
So I will high-five anyone who celebrates the Cubs with me. I don’t like the White Sox, and I don’t really watch professional basketball, but hell, I’ll high-five anyone who’s excited about their team.
Sports bring people together. Sports make bad times better, and sports make friends. Change is made when those who are in opposition find common ground. You can argue until you’re dead and buried about taxes, the economy, the school system, the beautification projects, the construction and the gun violence. Why not next time, start with, “Hey, did you hear the Cubs clinched?”
It might not solve the problem, but at least you’re starting on the same field.