How J.K. Rowling helps us soften the possibilities of our imagination in sports

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J.K. Rowling attends the press preview of "Harry Potter & the Cursed Child" at Palace Theatre in London on Saturday.

The wizarding world that J.K. Rowling imagines for us in Harry Potter books feels intimately familiar, as if we also attended Hogwarts as a teenager, drove past the Dursleys' house on a Sunday morning, and consider it perfectly normal to fly on broomsticks and travel through fireplaces.

We accept the feats of athletics with the same faith -- unquestionably believing the speed of a fastball, the grace of a free throw, and the strength of a tennis player. We feel the magic of being transported through watching something that seems real but has not been personally experienced.

Rowling understands the importance of sports as a way to bring people together. Even if you have never held a Harry Potter book in your hands, you have probably heard of quidditch, a flying sport played on broomsticks in midair. In a literary sense, quidditch serves as a way for Rowling to introduce the idea of women leaders in sports as neither taboo nor remarkable.

Notable is Angelina Johnson, portrayed in the story by Rowling as "a tall black girl who played chaser on the Gryffindor quidditch team" and later becomes captain of the coed team. Rowling doesn't emphasize either Angelina's gender or her race. But it seems an intentional move. Last summer, she publicly defended tennis star Serena Williams when a Twitter user said Williams was built like a man.

Rowling coolly came to Williams' defense by sarcastically tweeting: "Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You're an idiot." 

She also showed her support of Williams by tweeting, "I love her. What an athlete, what a role model, what a woman!" 

Rowling is deliberate in her allyship. She is a writer who uses her skills to subtly insert the invisible back into our own consciousness.

Her forthcoming and much anticipated book, "The Cursed Child," is a play, which requires a different kind of reading. Your eyes act as ears, as if the story were being told to you and your brain creates the rest -- where the light comes from, and how the eyebrows wiggle. Left to its own imagination, another thing the mind does is fill in skin color, which some readers proved when they assumed the character Hermione was white. Rowling had to clarify in a 2015 tweet: "brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione."

"The Cursed Child" is an opportunity to soften the possibilities of our imagination. Like good fiction, sports bring us the magic of being transported. Sports, like reading stories, are a way for us to train our minds, to observe what's going on and to be immersed in the present moment as we wait for the ball to swoosh, to land, to plunk.

Many thanks to J.K. Rowling for the magical world she helps us imagine.

Carrie Ann Welsh is a writer based in Wisconsin. 

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