Professor Chad Ford on Peace and Hoops

(Via sports law)

Chad Ford, late of ESPN and now of Brigham Young University-Hawaii will soon step to the podium in Oregon at the Willamette Law Review Symposium to deliver a lecture I'm interested in called "Peace and Hoops: Basketball as a Role Player in Sustainable Peacebuilding."

I think about that a lot. Donn Nelson is very knowledgeable on the topic, and it's not bogus.

Have you noticed what a ridiculous proportion of top basketball players come from neighborhoods where there's violence in the streets? Of course, the American ghetto is one big source, but even an unfair share of the European players in the NBA have strong connections to the war-torn Yugoslavia. And now there's an influx of players from parts of Africa that have been pummeled with violence. Not to mention that back when Italians and Jews lived America's ghettos, they were considered especially good at basketball.

I have some theories about why people born of strife succeed in this sport. Here are some:

  • All you need is a hoop and a ball. It's a low budget sport. Victims of war and violence are seldom wealthy.

  • It's easy to play in cities, where a lot of violence takes place.

  • You can play and practice meaningfully alone, or with really any number of people, at any time of day or night. That means you can play spontaneously, with whatever time you have. Soccer, baseball, and football, on the other hand, prefer more space, more people, more grass, and the kind of ongoing organization that falls apart in times and places that are violent.

  • On top of all that, people from desperate circumstances do well in almost all sports. I think a big part of that is because, let's say a good eighth grade player has a .0001% chance of making it as a professional. If you have a lot of options in life--if you could just hit the books at your good suburban school and make it to college, where your parents can afford to pay for you to become an engineer or whatever--then it's frankly pretty stupid to spend six hours a day shooting in the driveway. But if you're in the worst neighborhood in town, your home life sucks, and the school is a nightmare, well than maybe that .0001% chance of success seems a little more worthwhile.

But for all of us, sports is something big to believe in, that has rules and glory and optimism. We can all get together in a stadium and cheer for people who look and talk different from us. Our governments can be at each other's throats, but we can still love how this or that guy from another country performs.

Diplomats realize this. One of the first steps in thawing relations between two countries is to have them play sports against each other. (One of the best players on Israel's soccer team is Palestinean. Jews cheer for him. How incredible is that?) Even just in America, while basketball is far from perfect, it's a place where different races get along better than in other parts of society.

And, as basketball is popular in a lot of places where there is trouble, I could see how this sport could be an important one in inspiring peace. I hope Chad Ford's paper is available on the web later. I'd be interested to read it.