Part 3: The power of sports
In the part two of this series, I examined the struggles that Hines Ward faced growing up as a multicultural kid in Georgia. In this part of the series, we will look further in to how Ward was finally able to flourish in his new environment thanks to sports.
Sports have the ability to do things that few other things can. Sports have the ability to unite people regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, geographical location, and a whole host of other potential challenges. Sports, like math, can be thought of as a universal “language”.
Every four years, tens of millions of people who speak hundreds of different languages and are from around the world join each other in watching the FIFA World Cup. Possibly an even larger global audience tunes in to watch the summer and winter Olympics.
In addition to uniting the fans, sports gives athletes the ability to assimilate into a culture that may otherwise have rejected them.
Despite all of the teasing that Hines Ward faced during his childhood due to being multicultural, athletics provided a way for Ward to fit in.
“It wasn’t until I got into athletics…..I was lost.” Ward said when asked about when he felt like he finally started to fit in. “When I first got involved in athletics, I was the only black kid on the team and luckily people didn’t look at me as a race. I was part of a band of brothers.”
As an only child, Ward would spend most of his time with his teammates while his mother worked to support him. He looked at brothers as an extension of his family.
Allison Steele echoed Ward’s sentiments about her time in Barcelona. After being teased for her inability to speak the language, Steele was able to watch the other players perform the drills and learn simply from watching, making her feel accepted and like she fit in.
“It was tough at first. You could hear people talking and know they were talking about you but you didn’t know what they were saying so it made me feel kind of uncomfortable. I would stand at the back of the lines for every drill so I could watch the other players do them and I could learn since I didn’t understand the verbal instructions” Steele said. “Eventually, though, I played with them enough and picked up enough of the language to finally understand them somewhat and from then on, I felt like they accepted me more, not only because I could understand them, but because they saw I could play the game basically as well as they could.”
All athletes that come to a new country face many challenges when they first arrive, but through the power of sport, they are able to assimilate and fit into their new environments.