Sports could be the solution

By Lindsey Woods

An NBA player, a priest and a gang member walk into a church. Actually, there were multiple NBA players and gang members, and though this may sound like the start of a twisted joke, it is actually the start of a heartwarming story that took place here in Chicago on Sept. 22.

Roaming the streets of some of Chicago’s infamous neighborhoods can be deadly, but it is an everyday reality for some city residents. Enter the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church, who was fed up with the gang violence surrounding him and his South Side congregation. So he gathered current and former NBA stars, including Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Isiah Thomas, as well as gang members from the community, to do one thing—play basketball.

The event was called the Peace Basketball Tournament, and for one day, young men who usually shoot at each other were just shooting hoops. The only color that mattered was the one on their jerseys, and they got to vent their anger and frustration without killing anyone. To me, that represents the true spirit of sports.

With all the recent news about lockouts, money, bad behavior and the like, it’s easy to forget the benefits of team sports. Long before playing the game makes someone money, it teaches invaluable life lessons.

Playing sports in middle or high school instills in kids and young adults a sense of responsibility, ethics and teamwork. Sports can give players an identity, a family and a safe outlet for their emotions—all things that may keep them from joining a gang, which can provide the same outlets but in a much more dangerous way.

Perhaps getting kids into sports while they’re still young is a solution to Chicago’s epidemic of violence. Of course, it’s not a be-all and end-all solution, but it could definitely help get kids off the street, a la “Coach Carter,” but less cheesy.

Maybe Pfleger is onto something. Even if it’s not a solution, the fact that he brought so many gang members together to play basketball without incident is humbling. Events like the Peace Tournament shine a light on the meaning of sports—not all the nonsense about referees and contract negotiations.