This post was supposed to be published before the NCAA basketball finals. It was supposed called ” why I root for the little guy.” It was supposed to be a nod to why I love an underdog despite a history of being subject to defeat again…and again…and again. But it didn’t happen that way. I got the flu, could barely sit up let alone type on Monday, and the post got delayed. So now this post comes after my alma mater, a team quite literally the little guys (in the world of college basketball 7-footers) defeated NCAA royalty. And like so many other people who have witnessed great sports victories, I deeply felt that win. I needed that win.
When I was studying sociology at Villanova University I fell hard for the concept linking public issues and private troubles courtesy of the forward thinking theorist C. Wright Mills. Mills explained that the goal of a sociologist should be to demonstrate to people how one’s individual problems are almost always tied to a greater societal issue. One obvious example is parents being torn personally between career and family when the societal structures make the ability to balance both exhausting. Another example would be children experiencing anxiety being linked to the hectic pace and pressure of modern life. Mills called it The Sociological Imagination, and urged sociologists to help people make these connections. By changing public issues, he believed we could help alleviate personal troubles.
Always a bleeding heart (I tried to keep a box of leftovers postmarked to “poor kids in China” under my bed as a child), I was drawn to the idea that sociology could help many people at the individual level by making change at a societal level. But that change requires a long road and faces many obstacles. I wondered then, and still do, if just as public issues were reflected in personal troubles if public wins could link themselves personal triumphs. We know that cities experience lower crime rates after a championship win in one of the big 5 professional sports. Could such wins trickle down to the individual, too?
Along with learning Mills in college, I learned a great deal as an undergraduate about the sociology of sports. My advisor and mentor, a sports sociologist and Mills advocate, was a jaded sports fan, and compared the GroupThink mentality of high level sports to religions and fringe political groups. As sure as I was the Mills made sense to me, I never wrapped my head around why my advisor thought professional and college sports were so bad. Sports brought people together. Sports made people happy. Sports were a point of discussion, debate, agreement, and community. I acknowledge that my opinion on some sports’ issues are still unresolved (football and concussions, I’m looking at you), but overall I still think that sports have the ability to lift us up and to give us something to believe in. Especially when that belief is in a group of little guys from a school of 6500 that is known for pulling off the greatest David vs. Goliath upset in their 1985 tournament win.
2016 has not been kind to me. If you follow this blog, you might notice that despite my general optimism, I’ve had a lot on my plate lately. I said to my husband recently, “I just need a win.” I wasn’t even talking about sports. I just wanted something to lift me up. To show me that something BIG could happen and make me realize that all the emotional and physical pain of this year could be put to rest. I just didn’t expect that BIG thing to be a buzzer beating 3 point shot from a self-described “chubby kid from D.C.”
I still believe in the links between public issues and private troubles. But I also believe in the links between public wins and personal triumphs. Today, amidst the tissues, tea cups, and pillows on my bed I’m feeling the NCAA win deeply. For that, I am grateful.