Nudges & Bridges: The Sporting Life – How Sports Bring us Together

By Timothy L. Fort, PhD, JD, Eveleigh Professor of Business Ethics, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

In this second episode of The Sporting Life – How Sports Bring us Together, Timothy Fort, Eveleigh Professor of Business Ethics at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, suggests that each of us could find common ground with those we may disagree with on social and political issues. How do we do that? In this episode, Timothy explores how films depict sports.

These early podcasts will focus mostly on sports as the cultural artifact that can bring people together. Simply put, sports are popular and a lot of people around the world follow sports and often participate in them. When I ask my students of how they have been able to find common ground with others with whom they disagree, being on a sports team and/or being a sports fan is, by far, the most commonly identified way.

In this episode, I turn again to film and how films depict sports. The first film is Invictus, which tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s presidency of South Africa. After being imprisoned for decades, Mandela became the president of South Africa, a country that had had a history of racial strife with a white minority ruling over a black majority. Wouldn’t Mandela use his newly found power to settle some scores, at least symbolically? One of the scores that could have been easily settled was to undercut the status of the Springboks, the national rugby team, which in the eyes of many symbolized oppression both in terms of the sport itself (the black majority played soccer) and rugby itself. Instead, Mandela became the biggest booster of the rugby team and encouraged others to follow his lead, thereby uniting the country around it. Doing so required a large dose of forgiveness and that forgiveness opened the door for sport to create a new kind of “us” against an outside world of “them” rather than the “us” and “them” being within the country’s borders.

The second example comes from the Korean film, “As One.” This depicts the two Koreas forming a joint table tennis team to compete in an Asian games tournament in the nineties. The blending of the two teams was not easy. There were resentments, differences, and animosities. The film focuses on two women, who were fierce rivals before the blending of the teams. Their rivalry continues early in the film, but gives way to the “other” no longer being a stranger or an enemy but a teammate and friend.

Us vs Them can be dangerous insofar as it can dehumanize, delegitimize, and caricaturize the “them.” Later episodes will deal more directly with this danger, but there is potential for “thems” becoming “uses” in a positive way as well.

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