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The ball in our courts

It’s been an interesting month in the world of sports.

Granted, the world of athleticism has always held its luster and adrenaline, which is why we are never really fazed by its occasional but inevitable forays into the world of capitalism or celebrity.

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It is not so much as just keeping an eye out on who wins and how the game was carried out. It is also about the buildup of cult personalities, the pedestals we have cemented for them, and the lives they lead as a result of all these. Recently, it has also been a matter of how sportsmanship has changed us, and how we will soon be changing sportsmanship itself.

The month opened with hard-hitting news about a brawl that broke out between the Australian Boomers and Gilas Pilipinas during the Fiba World Cup qualifiers. It was cringe-worthy to watch, even if we have been occasional spectators to brawls in professional basketball before.

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Never mind that we arduously love our Gilas team. We have owned their trademark blue and white jerseys, we have chanted an impassioned “puso” with them, and we even had our hair raised during their win against rival Japan during the 2015 Fiba Asian Championships. But when the brawl broke out, we were agonized. Whether it was fragile masculinity, toxic machismo or even misplaced camaraderie that ignited it, the brawl was not an exemplar of professional basketball.

Last Sunday, Manny Pacquiao won another welterweight world title after defeating Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur. Manny won by knockout, finally. But this fight wasn’t met with much enthusiasm. In his career peaks, we even watched his games in the cinema, free shirt and all. Today, the win was news we just woke up to. Which is unfortunate, because Pacquiao’s recent fight was reminiscent of his glorious days in such a stellar boxing career.

Even if we’re not participants, we’re not ones to miss the highs and lows of the Fifa World Cup, the world’s most viewed sporting event. During the last World Cup, we watched it in a Spanish bar with expats. It was intense. Honestly, Fifa is the only football event I watch in passing. I have stopped watching Eufa altogether.

France’s win against Croatia was beautiful and unforgettable, even if my seeing the game was purely out of happenstance. Kylian Mbappe of France, only 19 years old, was phenomenal. For many, this year’s World Cup was the best ever.

It’s been an interesting month in sports, not because of the hits and the misses, or who won and who didn’t. It’s because sports is such a huge platform for change in times full of it. It makes an avenue for difficult conversations to be raised. It is such a letdown to see these opportunities go to waste.

In 2012, Miami Heat posted a photo of the team in black hoodies and head bowed in memory of a gunned-down teen. In 2014, basketball players wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts to memorialize the death of a man in the hands of the police.

In 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the American national anthem, activism rippled across not just the NFL but other leagues as well. Last year, LeBron James wore a pair of black and white shoes to a game, both spelling out EQUALITY in gold. Stephen Curry went after the CEO of sponsoring brand Under Armour, who called Trump an “asset.” World Cup winner Mbappe is donating half a million dollars to charity.

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I like how sports brings everyone to the table. In these polarizing times, our athletes should be vanguards of equality, justice and fairness. Isn’t that what sportsmanship is all about?

It is high time we ditched the kind of sports that serves as an avenue for aggression, brusqueness or machismo. Neither should sports be desecrated by using it as a stepping stone to a seat in power. As many athletes have shown, nationalism, humanitarianism and activism can all be displayed in court. We all love a good game. But what is a good game if it isn’t also for the greater good?

We spectators have to give our athletes the upper hand. And for the sporting elites? The ball is in your court. Y’all should step up your game.

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TAGS: Basketball, fifa world cup, Gilas Pilipinas, Manny Pacquiao, sports
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