With the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the world again witnessed the unique way in which sports can bring a community, or even a nation, together. Even bitter rivals of the Los Angeles Lakers paid their respects to remember the legacy left behind by the late superstar.
Pro sports may be “just a game,” but the impact and reach of the competitions nevertheless extend deep into personal lives.
Cue Super Bowl LIV.
A possible 100 million football fans will gather to watch the biggest sporting event of the year on Sunday, a far cry from the 11 million or so who tuned in to the first day of the Senate impeachment trial.
And while football may be less political, it isn’t any less representative of the rich tensions that make up the country.
Take a look at who’s playing. The NFL couldn’t have hand-picked two more different franchises to compete in this year’s contest if it wanted to.
In style of play, the two teams have striking differences. The Kansas City Chiefs rely on a high-octane offense that blazes down the field, while the San Francisco 49ers lean heavily on their stalwart defense and run game.
The communities that support each team are also extremely diverse. Kansas City is more rural than San Francisco with only 1,459 people per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. San Francisco’s metropolitan area holds 17,179 people per square mile. The median household income in San Francisco is almost double that of Kansas City.
The political leanings of the two fan bases also sit on opposite ends. Data collected from Facebook shows the Kansas City Chiefs have one of the highest percentages of conservative fans in the NFL, while the 49ers have the second-highest percentage of liberal fans.
And yet, with a few exceptions, fans manage to set aside political differences to enjoy a simple game together. The players themselves come from diverse backgrounds across the country and are, in most cases, warmly welcomed by new communities.
Still, viewers won’t be able to completely escape from politics as they share nachos and chicken wings — President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg are each spending more than $10 million on ads. And the country’s first 2020 caucus will start only hours after the final whistle.
Perhaps such a trivial event like a football game shouldn’t distract from the heavy and important happenings of the political realm; but then again, is a little distraction such a bad thing?
In cognitive behavioral therapy, distraction training has been found to help patients with anxiety feel a better sense of control and safety. Another study done on severe burn victims concluded that distraction was able to reduce pain by up to 50%.
In fact, amid a looming election, a distraction this weekend could be welcome medicine. In 2018, the American Psychological Association revealed the most commonly reported source of stress was concern over the future of the nation.
When the Chiefs and the 49ers take the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, they won’t be solving political issues or negotiating foreign policy, but maybe, at least for those four hours, Americans will feel a little less anxiety and a little more camaraderie than they have felt in a while.