Why do we participate in sport? No that’s not right. Why do we compete in sport, at the highest level? Why do we push ourselves to find the maximums of our capacities and then measure them against others? Every athlete could answer those questions in a different way and on different levels. Likely they could answer them multiple times depending on how the considered the question. But it is an important question to ask. Particularly once you reach a high level.
I do it because I love the sport I am in. It has this amazing ability to mix pleasure and pain into a simultaneous symphony of sensations. All sensations that are self inflicted so it is equally rewarding to and testing to your character. That is why I do it at the surface.
Under that I feel every professional athlete has a heavy social responsibility though. I know many athletes would shrug at that and ask why it falls to them to do the good work of the world. They are just good at sport, why should they be responsible for addressing the social and economic issues of our modern time? Well I say it is because they are versed in the only true universal language of humanity. The thing is sport speaks to us on a very basic instinctual level. The competition, fight or flight reactions of almost any sport are felt in every language and culture, and creature around the world. But sport has a unique high-level social structure. The rules are what make it human. The organization is what separates it from baboons beating each other with sticks. There is a common agreement across culture and languages that this is the acceptable way to engage in the sport. Any athlete at anytime can step outside of those rules but if everyone does it then it is just a bunch of animals at war (or worse really since war even has rules). The true humanity of sport comes from experiencing the basic instincts and directing them within a set of rules. And all this communication and understanding can happen across languages and cultures. So high level athletes are the only ones in the world who can speak that universal language in the most eloquent of ways. They are the Shakespeares of the only language spoken by every human being ever.
This brings me back to that social responsibility. With that kind of access to the basic instincts of individuals; that ability to create empathy without words and passion without presence, athletes have the ability to reach almost anyone. As professionals you also build a profile that, within reason, will give you the ear of almost anyone. Politicians, royalty, and leaders will listen to athletes because they can identify with them, even if they are not athletes or even fans, every person on the planet knows what it means to feel the rush of your instincts pushing you in a certain direction. This is why athletes have the power to change people.
I use this language to create things that might make the world better for someone else. This is what I have been trying to do in the Yukon with the “Zach Bell rural youth sport Initiative” It is nearly there and all because people are willing to listen. All the partners I have I didn’t reach because I spoke the right words. I have them because something about my journey in sport did the speaking for me. This is why sport is important in schools. This is why it is something we can’t ignore. It is a universal language that teach everything from self-control to empathy. All without speaking a word. If our kids have sport as part of their lifestyle it is like teaching them a language that everyone will understand. It will give them a way to reach and relate to people. It will teach them the difference between being human and not. It gives them the power to change their own lives and the lives of others. Ultimately isn’t that what it is all about. If we are not having an effect on others we might as well not exist. I think that effect should be positive. I also think that a pro athletes fluency in the language of sport gives them the best opportunity to have the most effective positive impact on others. What would the world have lost if Beethoven didn’t use his most proficient language to affect others? A high level athlete not using sport to better the world would be like Beethoven only playing as a hobby. I think we can all agree that with that level of talent there is a responsibility to use it out in the world.