Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios by easy unanimous decision at The Venetian in Macau, China. Before the bout. Some argued a win by Pacquiao would somehow help victims of super typhoon Yolanda (also known as super typhoon Haiyan), which barreled through the Philippines two weeks ago, wreaking havoc on thousands of local inhabitants. CBS News reported Yolanda might be the area’s deadliest natural disaster on record.
Per the latest report, the death toll has topped 5,200 in the Philippines.
These are trying times. But can a sports entertainment event like Pacquiao’s win over Rios really help people cope in the wake of national disaster? Recent history suggests so.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the upstart New England Patriots rode a wave of emotion as many Americans dealing the attack started rooting for the underdog team with the nationalistic moniker. On February 3, 2002, the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in the Super Bowl XXXVI, its first championship in franchise history.
Similarly, residents of Louisiana rallied behind the Saints after the football team was forced out of the city after Hurricane Katrina. The Saints were terrible that season, playing many of their home games in different cities across the country. The storm-induced exile led to an ugly 3-13 finish in 2005, but in 2006 the team returned to New Orleans. It was a sign of hope for the beleaguered area, something for the people to rally behind. As the Saints built their team up from the ground floor, so too did city. On February 7, 2010, the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.
More recently, the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 2, to win the 2013 World Series. This was the first time since 1918 Boston was able to celebrate a championship victory at home, winning in front of an announced crowd of 38,447 at Fenway Park. Earlier that year, Bostonians suffered the senseless violence of terrorism after two pressure cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others.
“This is our bleeping city!” screamed Red Sox David Ortiz after the win, a reference not lost to those watching the celebration. Ortiz notoriously delivered his iconic F-bomb just a few months earlier, right after the attack in Boston happened. Ortiz’s sentiment was one shared by many Bostonians, who were shook with horror after the bombings.
Still, some aren’t so sure sports should have such an important role in helping victims cope with tragedy. Michael Woods, TSS Editor, said he believes people place too much importance on sports in general.
“It makes sense--the world can be a cold, nasty place and comfort and joy can be hard to come by,” said Woods. “But I think the world would be a better place if more people cared a bit less about how their squad is doing, and more about more substantial things.”
Woods likens obsession with sports, at least for Americans, to an addiction to diversion.
“We see the preference for diversion and the replacement of idols to worship when we hear about a region coalescing around a team, as the Boston area did, to help them cope with a tragedy,” said Woods.
“In no way do I want to steer anyone away from obtaining comfort during a stressful time--please, I want to stress that--but part of me has to ask, is there any meaningful correlation between the fortunes of the baseball team with the fifth-highest personnel salary payroll, and how a region reacts to a act of terrorism by two disaffected savages?” Woods asked.
It’s a fair question. In the grand scheme of things, sports are of little consequence. But at the same time, isn’t fair to ask if there is really any harm done when victims of tragedy use sports to help them through tough times?
Woods thinks there could be long-term consequences.
“Wins by the Red Sox and New England Patriots are offered up as salves to heal emotional wounds, and I have to think that those victories are short-term band-aids at best,” said Woods. “The use of sports teams as instruments of healing makes sense to me, because it is simplistic thinking, and involves not much in the way of introspection, of self, or of a society which breeds young terrorists who commit such horrid atrocities. The unexamined life is the easier life to lead and, I think, the one many, if not most, folks will veer toward in uncertain times.” (Note from Editor Woods: Let me make clear, I hope with all my heart that all the people affected by the typhoon derive every single possible ounce of joy, and relief and comfort they can from Manny's win. They deserve it, times a trillion! I want to humbly point out that I don't want to lump together the majority of people in the Boston area, rooting for the team with the inflated payroll, and those struck by the vicious natural disaster. They don't equate at all, in my eyes. I am speaking to a larger shift in our society, one in fact I work to combat in my own household, the constant drive to divert attention from matters of depth and substance.)
Perhaps the closest thing we Americans have to the Filipinos and their love of Manny Pacquiao (seen in photo courtesy Chris Farina-Top Rank) would be Boston and it’s love for local sports teams. There, it is more religion than hobby. TSS writer Springs Toledo, who lives in the Boston area, offered his insight.
“Boston prides itself on being a tough town, and it is,” said Toledo. “In certain pockets of the city, it seems like every third guy between 19 and 30 is a street fighter with a rep; well, at least it was when I was coming up. Fighting is a sport in Boston, with or without a ring. And it was from the beginning. The so-called ‘Boston Massacre’ that helped spark the American Revolution was itself sparked by a gang of street toughs looking for a fight.”
Toledo confirmed Bostonians are incredibly passionate about sports.
“Sports are big here, however loosely they are defined,” said Toledo. “Wearing a Yankees hat in Dorchester or Southie can get downright dangerous at times. People take it personally.”
And do people there use sports as a coping strategy?
“Of course, sports are used as coping strategies here,” said Toledo. “When my girlfriend's father was dying of cancer and everyone was holding a bedside vigil in 2004, he said that he just wants to hold on to see the Red Sox win the World Series for the first time since 1917, or whenever it was --and they did, and he lived to see it. Coping strategy? In that case, the damn Grim Reaper was left waiting on the porch until that Boston Red Sox fan was good and ready...!”
Toledo doesn’t share the same opinion as Woods.
“As for the practice itself, I think it's perfectly healthy. It takes an individual out of family stress or relationship blues or work angst or 'no-work available' angst and offers a thrill for a few hours. Sports bring people together. Even the alienated among us can put a ‘B’ hat on and feel like they are part of a team.”
So it seems the answer to the original query is clear. Right? Some people affected by super typhoon Yolanda absolutely will use Pacquiao’s win over Rios to help them cope with the devastation. Maybe it will inspire them. Maybe it will help them emote. Maybe it will just provide brief distraction. Or maybe it will give them an unhealthy diversion. Maybe it will keep them from thinking about more important matters. Maybe it will hurt them more in the long than it helps them in the here and now.
But should it help them cope? The answer to that is probably best left to the people of the Philippines.
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for The Sweet Science and Bleacher Report. This story is an expansion of thought on an article originally appearing on CNN.com and Bleacher Report entitled ‘Inspiring a Country to Fight: How Manny Pacquiao Can Help the Philippines’.