“Sport at its best allows us to play…Play lightens us up, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. True play promotes freedom, creativity and joy…Joy is a gift from God; we don’t produce it. Experiencing joy, living abundantly, is God’s dream for us and the reason we were created. Joy is most deeply felt when preceded by struggle and despair…”
These excerpts from the Play pillar in the beautiful Bayada Atrium of the Neumann University Mirenda Center for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development are particularly meaningful in the days since spring sports have been cancelled/postponed. I am worried that for many of our spring athletes, especially our college and high school senior spring athletes, joy may be elusive right now.
When we are in the depths of anguish or disappointment, it’s easy to think joy will never return, yet, joy is most deeply felt when preceded by struggle and despair.One of the most powerful documentaries ever made about the power of the good in sports is called Nine Innings from Ground Zero. It’s the story of major league baseball in New York in the days and weeks after 9/11. Talk about a time of despair.
As a result of the terrorist attacks, people of New York and across the United States were reeling after the death and serious injury of thousands of loved ones and the destruction of iconic structures. Thankfully, healing came in many ways. In fact, as the documentary notes, “in the aftermath of 9/11, healing had taken many forms and came from many sources…Those who were caught up in the high drama of the World Series had found their healing in the simple pleasure of watching a baseball game.” Healing came, but did the healing include joy?
Joy is a gift from God. We don’t produce it.
Joy is a spontaneous reaction. Joy can’t be fabricated. Think of Bryce Harper’s SPRINT around the bases after his walk-off grand slam last August against the Chicago Cubs. That’s joy!
As noted in the documentary, baseball served as an escape. It didn’t matter who won or lost, all that mattered is that it was happening. “Sports was exactly what was needed to get their eyes up off the ground looking toward the future,” said NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the conclusion of the documentary.
The highs and lows of the race to the 2001 World Series spontaneously produced raw, authentic emotions—one of which was the emotion of unfiltered joy. This was depicted beautifully in a particularly poignant segment about Greg and Laura Manning in Nine Innings from Ground Zero.
In the days and weeks since September 11th, Greg Manning spent all his time in the burn unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital. His wife, Laura, a World Trade Center survivor, was suffering from burns to over 80% of her body. She had less than a one in five chance of surviving. Greg said “The last thing that I thought I would feel after September 11th was joy. But there were the Yankees…”
If survivors and the families of victims of 9/11 were blessed with the gift of joy in the days and weeks after the attacks, surely a pandemic can’t rob from us one of God’s most precious gifts…joy. While right now we are in the midst of a loooong Good Friday and are deprived of privileges such as playing our sport or watching our favorite athletes play the sport they love, I remain steadfast in faith that with the return of sports so will be many of God’s greatest gifts including joy. I desperately miss the students we serve and the community spring sports provides, I remain hopeful that, just as on Easter Sunday, joy will be resurrected and the beauty of all that is good and true in sports will be restored.
Lee Mirenda DelleMonache, PhD
Neumann University Institute for
Sport, Spirituality and Character Development
March 26, 2020