Empathy In Sports

Some cliches are true. After watching a spectacular college football championship one in particular comes to mind. There are no moral victories in sports. Alabama prevailed while Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson, has been referred to as nothing short of special. His 405 passing yards, and 478 total yards, are both the most in a National Championship Game in almost 20 years. A performance like that usually results in a win. It didn’t and Watson stated in his post-game interview, “I just wanted to get the win and do something that we haven’t done in 34 years…you’ll see us in Tampa next year, so…” It’s the “so” in his remarks that leaves room for something unique to sports-empathy.

No one is more empathetic than a sports fan. We feel each other’s pain and can (sometimes) celebrate each other’s victories. My Granddaddy once explained to me, “Winning isn’t everything; losing is. You can’t win if you don’t lose.” Losing and feeling an ache from your guts provokes every bruised muscle to get the body back up. Knowing that on the other side of winning is losing is what morphs participants into champions. Empathy in sports sharpens leadership skills, improves reactions to change, and strengthens trust amongst teammates.

One of the cruelest moments in sports happens when the loser is interviewed, on camera, directly after conceding a win.  I’ve seen many fall victim to pride and humiliation while pressed up against a wall, in a hallway filled with regret, and onlookers. That didn’t happen for Deshaun Watson who grew up in a house bestowed through former NFL running back, and Heisman candidate, Warrick Dunn’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Empathy was marked in his answer to a reporter’s post game question, “I wanted the W. All the stats doesn’t really matter to me. But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, love my brothers.” That’s about right for a guy who most everyone describes as decent. When it comes to youth sports, athletes are coached to display sportsmanship when they win not just because of what happens on the field; it’s that having empathy prepares us for life. So…Deshaun Watson gets that.


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