‘Blues Fever’ shows unifying power of sports

By Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher, Clarion Herald

I’m not a sports fan. I’ve never enjoyed going to sporting events, and the only time I’ll willingly sit down to watch something sports-related on television is during the Olympics. (I know, I know – this will have to change when my twin boys arrive.)

But something about the culture surrounding sports is intriguing to me.

Living in St. Louis, I’d have to be living under a rock to ignore the excitement and hockey fever that has taken over as the Blues entered (and finally won) the Stanley Cup. At first, my prime concern was the traffic. So much traffic. And then it became the reckless drivers.

But as the series continued, and the team inched ever-closer to the final showdown, something changed in St. Louis. Even people who I had known weren’t sports fans – and I had doubts over whether they had ever seen a hockey game – were suddenly caught up in the fever of chanting “Let’s Go, Blues” or “Play Gloria.” (I’m still unsure of how Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit “Gloria” became the victory song.)

It was like a contagion. Blues paraphernalia was everywhere. All I heard about were the games, the come-back team and the long-awaited celebration of the city’s beloved hockey team.

That’s what struck me: the community aspect. It didn’t seem to matter that someone who had never before so much as looked at hockey as a sport. Suddenly, everyone in the city was a Blues fan. When they played well, everyone experienced a high. When they lost, you could sense the depression and tension in the air. It brought people together.

It’s something to which the people of New Orleans can attest the beloved Saints. They, too, are a come-back team, the city’s boys in black and gold. They give the city something to rally around. Everyone might have their differences, but once the Saints have begun a winning streak, those differences seem to fly out the window.

That’s precisely what I saw in the final games of the Stanley Cup here in St. Louis. I saw community. Instead of protests and rallies around political differences, the streets of downtown St. Louis were swarming with people wearing blue. The gleaming Arch lit up the night sky with its blue lights in honor of the home team. In these past few weeks, difference didn’t matter.

On the night of game seven of the Stanley Cup, my husband and I attended a CPR and newborn-safety class to prepare us for our new arrivals. We were the only ones in the class. As we made our way home, the streets were crowded, the bars and restaurants were teeming. To my surprise, my husband put on the game when we got home. We saw the last few minutes, the Blues’ final moments, before the game was terminated in a win. Immediately, fireworks were heard in our streets. The celebration had begun.

What is it about the sporting culture that instills such communal feeling? How is it that a sports team can rally the support of even non-sports fans, inspiring them not necessarily to care about the sport, but about being a part of the community – or perhaps something bigger?

Maybe it’s something I’ll learn a bit more about with all the T-Ball games I’m sure I’ll be attending in the near future.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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