Sports as a way of life and death

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BRAD SPENCER

There is a man with a ballcap on his head sitting in a chair, his head down, his eyes closed. He sits there everyday.

You and I use sports to avoid what our eyes can't seem to stray away from. But because there's always a reminder, it's inevitable we can't help but feel helpless. The Superdome, the ballparks, Walter Payton Football Stadium, the soccer fields, the playgrounds, shrouded in murky water. Desperate folks clinging to life atop roofs, trees, and cars. College football kicks off. The NFL is soon to follow. There's Fantasy Football leagues to join, tickets to purchase. People have nothing left, no television to watch their beloved Saints, no barcalounger to settle into, no beer, no pop, no chicken wings. These are all minor things anyway. The kids are safe. There will be more football games. A new deluxe barcalounger perhaps, maybe even one of those new fancy flat screen televisions. But when? And how? Doesn't matter.

Life goes on for us. A day after visiting the old man with the ballcap sitting lifeless in his chair, we're at Wrigley Field watching the Cubs lose. We sit in silence at times, no doubt thinking of the old man, just a grandson and a son bewildered by the journey that is life. Will our days end so cruelly? Is there something in our heads now that in time will shutdown our brains and leave us incapacitated, render us unable to determine the result of a big play or the score of the game? Will we not recognize our son, or his son? If so, what can we do about it?

Nothing for now, but a ballgame.

Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack. The Cubs belt out four homers, but are still destined to lose. What are we destined for? A nursing home? A flood of epic proportions? A terrorist attack?

We sit there drinking a $5.50 beer, munching on a $4 bag of peanuts, while gas station owners inconspicuously raise their prices, while the poor, the hungry and the desperate search for food and water. We sit there with the old man on our minds, but with baseball and the upcoming football season chipping away at the pain of seeing the dying old man, of seeing the ruin of a major city.

We see the ominous images of the Superdome. It's roof skinned off. We see the squalor that people are forced to spend nights in with no electricity and no running water. It's heartbreaking, and we feel selfish when we picture the '85 Bears winning Super Bowl XX in the building. We take a sip of cold water, turn off the light and lay our head on a soft cool pillow as The Fridge bulldozes in from five yards out, helping the Monsters of the Midway to a triumphant 46-10 victory. We think of the former players now pillaging their celebrity on the 20-year anniversary of the win. We close our eyes before the shame settles in.

Sports, it's as much a part of us as anything else. Some of us live for it. Some of us die by it. It's not life, but it sure is close. It sure is as perplexing as life.

There is that old man, a World War II veteran who fought at Okinawa and received two Purple Hearts, sitting in a chair in the Reagan ward of a small nursing home downstate, while Alzheimer's disease meticulously and barbarically destroys what's left of his mind.

Sitting perched on my grandpa's head is nothing else but a Chicago Bears ballcap.

I feel helpless, yet thankful for the upcoming football season.

Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

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