The Play by Play: Finding unity in sports


By: CJ DonaldColumnist

This semester, I am one of twenty-one students enrolled in Dr. Rick Axtell’s Religion 340 course entitled “Studies in Ethics: Poverty and Homelessness.”

The course challenges stereotypes and strengthens social conscience in a variety of ways, the most striking of which includes an overnight stay in a homeless shelter.

In groups of two, students check-in at various homeless shelters in Louisville, Ky., stay overnight and comment on their personal experiences in light of the class teachings. This past weekend, fellow-senior Michael Fryar and I visited Wayside Christian Mission.

The biggest worry I had prior to the trip to Wayside concerned what I should wear.

I did not desire to immediately standout as a college student. Therefore, clothes emblazoned with the name of our private liberal arts school were out of the question.

I refused to wear any branded clothing but I wanted to stay warm. This meant that the Patagonia sweater I found on sale in an athletic store in Strasbourg, France was excluded from consideration.

Eventually, I settled on not-so-subtle sports apparel – my Memphis Tigers hoodie.

As an avid basketball fan, from the moment my fingers grabbed the grey garment from my closet, I thought of Saturday’s matchup between the University of Louisville Cardinals and my hometown team. I knew that, because my Tigers beat the Cards at the KFC Yum Center, Pitino’s boys would be out for revenge.

Due to my interactions with many Kentuckians, I also knew that what Dr. Daniel Stroup told NPR in 2012 is true: basketball is [almost] the established religion of the Commonwealth.

I threw on that Memphis hoodie and hit US-127 both anxious and excited for the experience that awaited me in The ‘Ville. How would the City of Louisville react to a heretic?

Michael and I checked-in at Wayside Chrstian a little after three o’ clock in the afternoon.

We were directed to an upstairs waiting room where the males seeking shelter spend most of their time during the day.

I stepped into the room and was, quite honestly, surprised to hear a few men screaming at the television, demanding that Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell dunk the basketball. In one fell swoop, my Memphis shirt and I grabbed a chair and the attention of the room.

As the Cardinals went up 53-49 over the home team after a Harrell two-pointer, an older gentleman turned to me and remarked on my bravery to represent Memphis while watching a game that my Tigers would surely lose.

A fifty-year-old who exhibited uber-confidence upon my arrival felt compelled to constantly exit and re-enter the room as the score teetered back and forth.

When Michael asked one of Wayside’s permanent residents who he was rooting for, the baby boomer responded, “Is there even a question? I’m rooting for Louisville.”

As the game drew to a close and Memphis snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, I earned respect from the other sports fans in the room.

When Michael and I began asking those in the shelter about their lives, basketball served as an icebreaker, if nothing else.

It was a running joke-a talking point that made relative strangers immensely comfortable with one another. I realized that sports can function as a tie that binds us.

At Wayside Christian Mission, I found, among many things, sports fans that deserve respect just as much as any of us. I met people who are good, helpful, and interesting.

If those folks happened to live at 600 West Walnut Street instead of on East Jefferson Street, I might find myself spending a great deal of time with them in the Campus Center watching ESPN.

We’d play pick-up basketball and scream at referees during the College’s Varsity matches. Sports is a tie that binds us as humans.

Sports is not the great equalize, but, if we let it, our interactions within the sports world edify us as humans and allows us to connect ourselves to others in an intimate way.


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