Sean Speer: Sports’ importance to society has never been so apparent

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We often underestimate the benefits of sports

Sports are a mediating institution in which individuals from different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives come together in pursuit of a collective goal. That can be the Stanley Cup, the local pee wee championship or even the Sunday morning beer league.

In a culture that prioritizes individual autonomy and expression as the ultimate goods, sports operate according to a different ethic. They’re one of the few facets of modern life where we voluntarily relinquish a bit of our individuality to a collective cause.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that research shows sports are a major source of social capital. They contribute positively to social integration, interpersonal relationships, civic engagement and other forms of community building.

A team does its stretches at Toronto’s Ted Reeve Arena in a file photo from March 16 2005. Photo by Postmedia News

This is the key point: sports are a valuable civil society institution not because they produce individual benefits but rather due to their spillovers that extend far beyond the individual.

These community-based benefits are more important now than ever. In a recent essay for The Atlantic, writer David Brooks documented the extent to which rising polarization and precarity in our societies reflect the breakdown of community bonds.

Sports aren’t the full answer to these challenges. But they can help. At a moment of atomization and factionalism, sports can play a crucial role in bringing people together and building bridges across differences. They can give us a renewed set of shared experiences for our age of diversity.

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