Competitive sports, if done in the right way, are a remarkable equalizer that travels across race, gender and even long-held beliefs.
In a much-too complicated world, though, it might seem too simplistic to see boys and girls, of different races, of different backgrounds or of different views as the same, more alike than different.
But the equalizer there, on the playing field, is cheers and laughter.
The cheers come from the stands, where it should come from; adults reveling in the joys of youth. On the field, it comes from where it should come from; children enjoying playing a game.
Sometimes, within the business of sports, the joy and cheers get confused.
My best-remembered sports moments have nothing to do with next-day highlights, but memories.
Here are a few of mine; feel free to join in.
BASEBALL AND KIDS
When I was a child, my father was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Tokyo, Japan. By happenstance, Stan Payls, who had played in the East Coast major leagues and Pacific League in the late 1950s, decided to play in Japan.
He and my father became friends.
To me, being 4 or 5 years old, baseball only meant a few things — hot dogs, Coke and being able to shout without someone shushing me.
Once, and it is still a family story my mother brings out, Stan and my father were talking. I asked, “What about?” My father’s answer, pointing to a seat in left-center field, is where Stan was going to hit a home run.
Stan hit the home run. Two seats over from the seat pointed to.
Stan and my dad lied to me.
As the story goes, I didn’t speak to Stan or my dad for days, unless I was ordered to.
At least that is the story that has been told at family gatherings.
THE HORSE CONTEST
There was an old backyard basketball shooting contest that revolved around, “You make a shot, I’ll make the same shot.”
Three teenage boys were playing the game when a mother came by — mine — and she took a shot, made it, clapped her hands and said, “Give me the ball.”
She kicked our butts. Turns out, she was a pretty good shot on her high school team, back in the day when girls only played half-court games.
To see the girlish delight in his mother’s face is something that every boy should see.
UNDERSTANDING IT’S MORE THAN JUST A GAME
Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson and Louisiana Tech women’s basketball coach Leon Barmore taught a young, in-training sports reporter more than they realized.
No two people could have been, outwardly, more different.
One was a black man coaching college football before Jackie Robinson finally broke the cracked — as it was happening in sports and in society — racial lines.
The thing I remember about Coach Rob comes from one of my first assignments as a college intern photographer in the 1980s, when I was assigned to take photos at a Grambling University football game.
Here I am on the field, one of about three or four white faces surrounded by more than a thousand black faces in the stands.
As the Grambling team came out of the locker room, Coach Rob stopped, stood next to me on the field and just looked around.
A stadium of people just wanting to watch a game. After that, going to a Grambling sporting event was just another assignment.
Coach Barmore is a rather intense person. He actually passed out while yelling at his team during a game. He was a notoriously bad post-game interview. Reason for the win? “We scored more points.” Reason for the loss? “They scored more points.”
But, once, I made him laugh.
Being as intense as he was in those days, Coach B tended to get technical fouls for arguing with the officials.
One year, after going about half a season without a technical foul, he got one. So, I asked him in the post-game press conference, “How did it feel finally getting the first technical?”
He glared, then laughed.
“C’mon, I’m getting better,” he said.
He was mellowing, which is why I didn’t fear for life or livelyhood in asking the question. Still, he had the same intensity.
A few years ago, I saw Barmore during a televised college women’s basketball game. He was at the bench, talking with Britney Griner, who was playing for Baylor University.
Years earlier, Leon had retired as the coach at Louisiana Tech. Still, he came out of retirement to be an assistant coach to a former player, Kim Mulkey, now the women’s basketball coach at Baylor.
Still, I saw he had the same intensity.
Not all success in sports comes from the stats pages. To see the real success of sports, you have to see more than TV highlights or pressbox reports.