King Kaufman's Sports Daily

How the trivial world of sports matters, even in the wake of a tragedy like the Virginia Tech massacre.

Published April 17, 2007 4:00PM (EDT)

Another day to wonder if sports matter.

Too many of those days in this lifetime, and not because I don't like wondering about that. I do. And I think ultimately sports do matter. But there are days when I approach this keyboard wondering if the subject of this column is too trivial, best saved for another morning.

Those -- these -- are bad days, days of body counts and saturation coverage, days of war and murder and horror, of wondering how this could have happened, of doing those clichéd things we do, or should do, when it all comes unhinged. Giving the kids an extra hug, fixing the lock on the back door.

In the best of times it's hard to care whether the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors grab that last NBA playoff spot and the chance to get smoked by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. With 33 people, mostly college kids, lying dead on the Virginia Tech campus, it's beyond trivia.

Sports matter because they matter. I don't mean to play word games. I mean anything that's so clearly important to so many people, in so many ways and for so many reasons, has to be speaking to us in ways that are worth thinking about.

One of the things I might have written about today was Chicago winning the right to make the U.S. bid for the 2016 Olympics. The Windy City beat out Los Angeles.

It's sports that have the political and business elites of Chicago celebrating today, those of L.A. disappointed. It's sports that are now putting every taxpayer in Illinois, and maybe those of us beyond its borders too, in the sites of a potential billion-dollar boondoggle, as Olympics tend to be.

The usual promises are being made that the public won't be on the hook to build all those new venues and athlete housing, that there won't be a $200 million white elephant of an aquatics center squatting mostly unused on the lakefront in 2020.

You're free to believe those promises or not, but the reason they work, the reason politicians and developers and team owners can keep making them despite a fairly healthy track record of similar promises being broken is that a lot of people want to believe them, because they love their sports.

You say, "Olympics," or, for example, "new NBA team," and there are plenty of people, sometimes enough to win an election, who get stars in their eyes even if they won't make a buck. Even if they'll lose a buck. Sports matter that way.

They matter because some people consider hunting a sport, and a vocal, well-funded subset of that group fight any effort even to keep track of, never mind limit, gun ownership. The strictest gun control in the world might not have prevented Monday's carnage, but it might have, and the level of gun control certainly plays a huge role in our society. The debate over it is one largely controlled by people who, by their definition, are talking about sports.

There is to be a convocation at Cassell Coliseum on the Virginia Tech campus Tuesday afternoon, with President Bush in attendance. The extraordinary and tragic events of Monday will bring more than 10,000 people together.

Basketball games bring that many to Cassell Coliseum more than a dozen times a year, they bring that many and twice as many together on any old random Tuesday, all over the country, from November to March. Every other day of the week too. The same and more goes for football, baseball, hockey, soccer. Not many things other than sports do that.

One of the first concrete details I heard about the Virginia Tech massacre Monday, beyond the basic fact that there had been a fatal shooting with many feared dead, was that all of the members of the Hokies football and men's basketball team had been accounted for. Yeah, sports matter.

Just maybe not so much today.

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