Sports: A Shatterable Dream

Posted June 24, 2014

A life-long passion for sports can be both a gift and a curse.

The euphoric highs of winning championships and celebrating with teammates is matched by the sheer devastation of watching those celebratory hopes slip away. All the hard work and effort that goes into one moment; elation and heartbreak balancing on the thinnest of precipices. There are few other things in the world that carry the weight of such instantaneous and extreme emotional responses.

Which is why it can be especially cruel when it all comes to an end.

Think about how many young boys and girls begin playing sports during elementary school. They don’t have money on their mind or the desire to provide a more secure future for themselves. They play for the enjoyment of the sport (or to spend time around their friends).  For most athletes, this enjoyment continues up until the time that you, or somebody close to you, realizes that you have reached the end of your rope, and there is nowhere farther for you to go with this endeavor.

No matter what age you are, that realization can be one of the toughest things a person has to endure. Deep inside everybody knows it’s going to have to end one day, but that doesn’t lessen the blow when the moment comes. The older you get, the more your grip on that passion tightens. Which is why the recent news regarding former Baylor center Isaiah Austin is so heart-breaking.

While basketball fans across the country are focused on whether Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James will opt out of their contracts or whether Donald Sterling will be forced to sell the Clippers, a 20-year-old kid just had his dreams shattered.

A 7-foot-1 center with ball-handling skills and three point range, Austin never quite lived up to his promise during this past season. However, with the NBA obsessed with size and athleticism combinations, he seemed destined to be selected in the first round of the draft this upcoming Thursday. Then, during a pre-draft physical, his blood work revealed that he had Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that affects about one in 20,000 people and can lead to a ruptured aorta. It caused the deaths of Olympian Flo Hyman and collegiate athlete Ronalda Pierce and would have put Austin at severe risk of similarly risking death during competition.

So, just like that, four days before his dream was set to come true, Isaiah Austin watched it fade into the white of lab coats and hospital rooms. It would be sad enough news as is, if it weren’t for the fact that Austin was already battling to fulfill his NBA dream despite playing with a prosthetic right eye as a result of a detached retina suffered in middle school.

How much more can one kid try to overcome only to see his chances fall short?

Yet all around him, professionals in the sport of his dreams seem more concerned about increasing their financial gain than anything else. And yes, partially Austin’s story teaches us that the dream could end at any minute, so we shouldn’t begrudge athletes for trying to protect their futures while they can.

But we should also look at Austin’s story and realize just how much sports means aside from the numbers in a bank account or team attendance marks. For many, sports represents a struggle to fulfill a lifelong dream, to prove something to yourself. It represents the constant desire to push back the person telling you that it can’t happen or that your time is done. It represents one of the few things in the world that many people carry with them throughout their entire lives.

Sure, it’s a childish endeavor, but it’s one of the only things we allow ourselves to do with the same childlike exuberance that gets beaten out of us as we get older. We cling to it in gyms, parks, and fields across the world; people refusing to let their love of sport die until the last possible breath. Yet somehow, when it’s played on a screen in front of us, or in front of thousands of people, we can forget why it all started inside each of us.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes moments like this to remember why sports mean so much in the first place.