When Sports Don’t Matter

You’ll never catch me acting like my sports radio show is important. Entertaining, fun, goofy, informational, divergent, and energetic? Most of the time. But important? No. And over the last several months, I’ve struggled more and more with the idea that sports are highly insignificant in the world in which we live. I love my job, and I’m known for my spirit and enthusiasm on air. People tell me my upbeat attitude is contagious, that it fuels them overnight or wakes them up in the morning. But how do I muster excitement about football, basketball or any other game when our society seems to be falling apart? How do I generate any kind of passion for sports when my heart is heavy over the senseless tragedies and unspeakable horrors that take place weekly in our nation and around the world? I find myself battling guilt when I shove the pain aside and put on a happy voice to host shows in the midst of turmoil.

It’s been six weeks since the United States woke up to another mass shooting at the hands of a madman–unfathomable suffering, torture, and loss for dozens of families, loved ones, wounded, and survivors. Orlando was torn apart by terror in its own backyard. It was a Sunday, and I spent most of the day watching the news, listening to eyewitness accounts, and praying for victims and those left behind. Later that night, the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup by defeating my favorite hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, in Game 6 of their series. I watched the game, but I absolutely didn’t care.

It’s a rare night that I don’t want to work, and nights featuring huge events are my favorite times to be on the air. But I dreaded sitting down in studio and turning on the microphone that Sunday. I tried to be honest about how I was feeling–numb, confused, angry, sad, heartbroken–and I admitted that it felt all wrong to be talking about hockey. When I took a deep breath and launched into actual sports, my enthusiasm was fake. At some point, I blocked out most of my emotion over Orlando and found a realm where only sports existed, just long enough to get through the show. The human ability to compartmentalize is astounding at times. The way we can block out pain and struggle to cope can be a blessing.

Since Orlando, the challenge to balance social consciousness with sports talk is all too familiar. On back to back days the first week in July, graphic videos emerged from Baton Rouge and St. Paul where African-American men died after being shot by police officers. Later that same week, Dallas law enforcement was ambushed at a protest. Five officers were murdered and several others critically wounded. That Thursday night show was one of the most difficult I’ve ever done. I know I was distracted, and there was very little I could do about it. My heart wasn’t in it because sports didn’t matter in the slightest. Nor did they matter when terrorists drove a truck into a holiday celebration in Nice, killing 84 (including 10 children), or when a triple suicide attack at an Istanbul airport left 47 dead. A hostage crisis in Bangladesh where 20 people died (among them, three American college students); coordinated attacks at a Paris nightclub and stadium, killing 130; strikes at a Brussels airport and metro station, claiming 32 more lives; surprise gunfire at a San Bernardino holiday party, causing 14 deaths–the list goes on and on. Most recently in the US, a Marine war veteran opened fire on Baton Rouge police officers, fatally wounding three of them. The gut-wrenching headlines threaten to overwhelm us.

I wish I knew of some perfect formula to navigate these treacherous and painful events on my show. If only I could open up a textbook that tells me when to address them or how much time to spend talking about them or whether to avoid them altogether. But there are no hard and fast rules to follow. Most often I bring them up and share my emotions before I do anything else, and I frequently apologize for moving onto sports. But when nine people were murdered in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last June, I didn’t touch it the first night on air because I didn’t think I could do it without breaking down. Listeners criticize my approach on social media, saying I should use my platform to lobby for gun control and other political changes OR telling me I should “stick to sports.” Yes, my job is to talk about sports, and I will always honor my employer and my bosses by performing to the best of my ability. But I’m also a human being. I will never “stick to sports” completely because my life and my show are not that one-dimensional.

Most people tell me they want the distraction that sports and sports radio offer. Even for a short time, they welcome a chance to focus on games and stories completely unrelated to the latest tragedy. They thank me for giving them a way to dull the pain, if only temporarily. The night after the five Dallas police officers died, I attended a Mets’ game at Citi Field. I didn’t feel like going, and I choked up when I first saw NYPD officers outside the stadium. But after settling into my seat and soaking in the atmosphere at the ballpark, I sensed that same relief for a few hours. The heartache wasn’t gone, but sports offered a brief respite and chance to breathe. I finally understood why listeners tune into my show after terror attacks and horrific catastrophes.

No, sports don’t matter much when held up against the loss of life. But people matter. A week after the Dallas shooting, a member of that local police force called my show. He spoke about forgiveness and hope and shared his gratefulness to those who’ve embraced his department since the ambush. We all need hope, that light shining in the darkness, and a connection with others who experience the same raw emotions in difficult times. Even when I don’t know exactly what to say or how to say it, my prayer is that my radio show offers a sliver of hope, a ray of light, that human connection. So I will keep showing up and sharing my heart ESPECIALLY when sports don’t matter.

6 Responses to “When Sports Don’t Matter”

  1. Jay Pierce Says:

    I can understand why you feel the way you do. In light of all this violence, it’s hard to forget about it. I too watched a lot of the coverage, switching from the different news networks to get more information. After all of this I was getting numb about it. You do help people deal with it even if sports doesn’t matter. There is nothing wrong with expressing your feelings. I just hope you don’t get to a point where you just quit because of all of this. You are one of the best sports talkers out there. Please keep your spirits up. Cause you do the same for the rest of us.

  2. Marvin Bittinger Says:

    Atta way, Amy! Keep up the good writing. I still say there is a book lurking inside your soul.
    -Marv Bittinger

  3. Amy, I first want to say that I appreciate your vulnerability displayed within this blog post. It shows that you are compassionate and aware of the abhorrent atrocities that are occurring around us, be it in this country or around the world. That’s not to say that anyone in your profession not addressing the matters is insensitive or indifferent, but I truly respect your willingness to acknowledge these circumstances as doing so honors the victims while also explaining in a way that we collectively need to be aware of these events…not to be completely absorbed to the point where it negatively affects our lives, but to be aware so that we in some miniscule way can create positive and influential change. I’ve always believed that, while one person alone cannot change the world, one can influence others the need for change by directly influencing others positively around them. Hopefully those humble tendencies will be infectious enough to create a chain of events that encourage and inspire within the human condition.

    That stated, I encourage you to not ever feel jaded or negatively affected by those who criticize your true affections and concern for what is going on. Sure, some may argue that you ought to stick to sports…and perhaps they do so because they want to get away from the real world…but again I think there is a level of honor and reverence you project through your platform when you acknowledge those things with remorse and respect.

    If I may, let me share with you (or anyone who cares to read) why I feel it is important for that type of acknowledgement…

    I served in the military during 9/11. In the weeks that followed those attacks, I was attached to a detail that secured the remains of those tragically killed on that fateful day. I am often haunted by those memories, much so that they have negatively affected my dreams to where I am often scared to sleep. I am enduring EDMR therapy to help me work through that traumatizing experience (and other experiences resulting from combat deployments), but some of the most therapeutic forms of comfort that I have taken solace in is listening or reading the experiences of others during that fateful day. I don’t know why that is…I guess it doesn’t make me feel alone and isolated in my experience when hearing others talk about or acknowledge the grief or remorse they felt on that day. That stated, I think it helps individuals like myself when sports professionals (or anyone in the media) share their opinions or thoughts, if even for a brief moment, as it shows that we are all human and not immune to the feelings or thoughts we possess.

    I will state that I listen to your show as a means to briefly escape the continuous madness taking place in our time. If it was up to me I’d obsessively watch the news and spend all my time trying to make sense of what is going on and why…but I’ve done that before and it has negatively affected my life when I have partaken in those things. I think it is because I served in the military and feel unresolved when I see terrorism still effectively terrorizing us. I’ve often been told by my counselors to refrain from and avoid news coverage as it doesn’t help with PTSD issues and such, but I’m not wired to force myself to be complacent to those things and so I value the times when you have shared your opinions and heartfelt sentiment, if even just briefly. That is far more important than I could ever convey to you.

    No doubt we are entering a time where the fray of war is now infiltrating our culture. In order to preserve the future we have to learn from our past and address the issues at hand so that we can pave a foundation that corrects the mistakes being made and allow our future generations can adhere toward and prosper. That starts with briefly addressing the issues going on, if only to show that they cannot be completely ignored and swept under the rug.

    I assume it is difficult to briefly address those matters, especially since it is taking place on a daily basis…but I fear that we begin to grow immune to those atrocities if we adopt the ideal that these atrocities are happening so often that it is no longer relevant to address them, thus potentially integrating them into our sense of normalcy. To combat that, I believe it is important to have dialog (if even only briefly) about these atrocities taking place to show that it is unacceptable.

    As mentioned, there isn’t a textbook or any sort of instruction on how to handle these matters, nor should there ever be. Despite the circumstance I think you have handled it professionally and compassionately.

  4. I agree that in the grand scheme of things sports doesn’t matter, it’s a game. For the players it’s a way of life. For me however, it’s a distraction. With all the ugliness that is happening in the world it’s a way of escaping and being entertained for even just a few hours and not watching the news getting further depressed. The same can be said for radio shows. I listen to a local sports radio show every morning for the entertainment and to forget about the tragedies. Sometimes those will be mentioned on the air if it’s relevant to sports but mostly they don’t because they understand that their demographic doesn’t time into their show to hear about it. We want to not think about it. So, keep up the good work and great blog. You’re doing great things by keeping us focused away from the bad things even if it’s just for a few hours.

  5. Ronald Lueck Says:

    Amy, I have followed your program for some years now and I have because of your passion, intellect, and sense of humor. I too struggle with finding joy in sports with the atmosphere of despair enveloping our entire world! My hope is that we as a people can truly unite on what IS important: love, family, and happiness. Please know that what you do does matter and that you do it VERY well. Thank you for the insightful words and I wish you and your entire After Hours crew the very best

  6. Your show and the games we play and watch create a diversion to help us forget the negative crap that is happening around us. I like many others look forward to sports and sports talk radio to take us away from what’s going on around us even if it’s just for a few minutes.

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