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Sports, Tribalism and Loss

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The role of sports in a world that wants to separate and divide people, with sometimes violent consequences.

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I live in Colorado Springs, and last week there was another shooting down here. A man walked into a Planned Parenthood building and before he was done nine people had been wounded and three were killed - including one police officer who was a friend of my family.

I did not know Jennifer Markovsky or Ke'Arre Stewart, the other two casualties of that shooting, but Garrett Swasey was an elder in my father's church. My dad is also an elder there and a mentor, and I knew Garrett casually from dinner conversations and various get-togethers.  I'm not a religious man but I respected his desire to protect and serve both his congregation and the populace at large.

After what had to have been a grueling few days, my dad invited me over last Sunday to watch the Broncos-Patriots game.  We discussed emotional topics and some of the events of the week, but mostly we watched the game between the team we supported and the team that had been Garrett's favorite, using it as a familiar touchstone in difficult times.

Human beings are tribal at heart.  For safety reasons we cannot all be accepted, unfortunately.  Back on the savanna, telling blades of grass from an approaching lion was the key to survival and that separation of the safe from the threatening is still imprinted on us. Many of the misguided "-isms" - racism, sexism, xenophobism, et al - are poor and painful ways to decide who is with us and who must therefore be against us.

Sports, too, are a version of tribalism, a safer way to define Us vs. Them in a way that shouldn't leave bereaved families behind.  They bring people from different nationalities, creeds and religions together in a celebration of athleticism with victories and defeats that can be fond memories and teaching moments rather than catastrophies.  At their best, sports teach respect for someone who is on an opposing side - something we could use a little more of in the current political climate.  At their worst, sporting fans kill each other because of something as silly as tribal colors - an infection of the world's fears that leak into every area of life, unfortunately.

As someone who has no particular religious affiliation, is a registered Independent voter and tries not to subscribe to too many "-isms" I tend to live my life without much of a tribe.  Sports brings wonderful people into my life and gives me something to share with them on an emotional level.  Garrett had his Patriots, my father has the Broncos, and both men could talk about the game without it damaging their friendship.

And with Garrett no longer here, my dad and I could watch the game in his memory and reflect without having to say a lot.  My love of the Nuggets was not something I grew up with - I came to it later in life.  But my love of athletic competition was absolutely something passed from father to son, and still shared on a weekly basis.

The funeral was Friday, and the parade for officer, pastor, husband, father and friend Garrett Swasey went on for miles.  The police shut down the highway with car after car paying respect to the fallen.  The color guard came from his hometown, and police officers traveled from states away in a show of brotherhood.  Garrett's sermons are being downloaded and his nuggets of wisdom distilled and passed along through sister churches, allowing Garrett to continue to touch lives even after he has left us.  Tribalism has great benefits to offer, even with its drawbacks.  I have no words to offer his widow and children as I did not know them well; instead I focus on my parents, as they are my tribe and their pain is my pain, in the hope that whatever I can restore to them is passed back on to the wounded and hurting in kind.

I do have these words for you, though: remember that a game is just a game, but even so that game can be a powerful connector to people you would never have met otherwise, who have life lessons to learn and others to teach you.  That ability to bridge gaps and create new bonds is an amazing gift, and can leave a permanent change in you even as the game itself provides merely ephemeral joys and passing triumphs.  Time may be what keeps everything from happening at once, but it is also a bender and shaper of the soul, allowing your mind to take experiences and weave them into the cloth of your life.  Make them good experiences, shared with those you care about.

I'm glad to be able to spend time with all of you.  The comraderie on this site enriches my life, and I hope I give back a little in turn. Whether silly or serious, Stiffs are what are great about sports fans.  Never lose that.  Even in difficult times, it's good to be able to come here and put down burdens for a few hours.  Especially this week, I thank you for that.

And rest in peace Garrett Swasey, Jennifer Markovsky and Ke'Arre Stewart.  For your families I still don't have words, and I'm sorry for that too.

RIP Officer Swasey. I have never seen anything like this. Truly incredible, this goes on for miles and miles. Police all over the state. Thousands. Brought a tear to my eye.

Posted by Kody Miller on Friday, December 4, 2015