(We are updating the list of Memphis area relief efforts at the bottom so keep checking back for more information)
Sometimes, in the midst of a contentious game or series, it is easy to lose perspective on why we are drawn to sports. They are a microcosm of the human experience, complete with triumph and failure, love and hate, friend and foe. Earlier this month, as the Grizzlies and Thunder were locked in a closely contested playoff series, fans from both sides engaged in (mostly) good-natured trash talk about the opposing team and city. Some people believe that such banter represents all that is wrong with sports and caution against what it brings out in people. I disagree. It merely represents the flip-side of the same coin that brings rivals to the aid of one another in times of tragedy and loss.
The unfortunate events in Oklahoma yesterday provide confirmation that rivalry brings out the best in people far more than it brings out the worst. Last night my Twitter feed was littered with dozens of messages from #GrizzNation expressing solidarity with #ThunderNation and the people of Oklahoma. The very fans who were bantering back and forth about who would win a basketball game ten days ago are the ones now asking if everyone was safe and what they can do to help.
Our hearts and prayers go out to families in Oklahoma. You can assist with donation at #redcross.org— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) May 21, 2013
This footage of the tornado damage is awful. Prayers for those involved. Hug your family and friends tonight.— Amanda Schultz (@ASchultz901) May 20, 2013
If anyone in #GrizzNation is thinking of getting a volunteer group together to help in OKC, please let me know.— Nikki Boertman (@PhotoNikki) May 20, 2013
Man, just awful. Loved talking with and meeting OKC folks just weeks ago and I cannot believe what I've seen. My prayers are with them.— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 20, 2013
We poked some fun at OKC fans recently but they are good folks who have experienced unspeakable tragedy. #GrizzNation is with them.— GrizzGrind (@GrizzGrindBlog) May 21, 2013
Sad to hear 20 kids died in Oklahoma. My prayers go out to all families involved.— Memphis Grind (@MemphisGrind) May 21, 2013
Still praying for those in OK....the petty things in life just DON'T matter right about now..— Shy (@FoxxyShyD) May 21, 2013
All of #GrizzNation is praying for Oklahoma today.— ¿Fake Robert Pera? (@FakeRobertPera) May 20, 2013
Been told by a good friend that two elementary schools in Oklahoma have been leveled by storms. Prayers go out to OK.— Pete Pranica (@PetePranica) May 20, 2013
I hate seeing the horrific scenes from the last 24 hours near Oklahoma City. Send your thoughts and prayers to the great people of OKC— Rob Fischer (@thefishnation) May 20, 2013
I could post #GrizzNation's tweets all day and never get to them all. You see, the negativity that sometimes comes with rivalry has its roots in something positive. Rivalry is born of pride in yourself and your hometown or home team. It is born of respect for your opponent, if not even a touch of envy. It carries an undertone of mutual understanding and shared experience about what it means to love something bigger than yourself. While these things may not be easy to see during a tense playoff series, they become clear when tragedy strikes.
There may be no greater example of a deeply divisive rivalry than the one between the University of Alabama and Auburn University. The saga between the two is littered with examples of individuals acting irresponsibly in a way that stoked the fire of the rivalry and embarrassed both fan bases. However, the elements that drive those sad and depraved few to act are the same ones that drive tens of thousands to stand in support of one another in the face of devastating tragedy.
On April 27, 2011, an EF4 tornado struck the heart of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, leaving a trail of destruction and death all the way to Birmingham. The tornado took the lives of sixty-four people and caused $2.2 billion in damage. In the face of this tragedy, Auburn fans immediately began to organize relief efforts for their Alabama brethren. The Auburn football team drove to Tuscaloosa to help in the cleanup efforts. The rivalry that has too often been soured by the irresponsible actions of a few was redeemed by the benevolence of many.
Indeed, rivalry transcends wins and losses. One need only to look at the way the New York Yankees players, organization and team responded to the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon to be reminded that these rivalries are about more than hate or sports. Similarly, when a gunman took the lives of thirty-two innocent people at Virginia Tech in 2007, the University of Virginia ground to a halt and held a vigil for the fallen. And now, as the full scope of the devastation in Oklahoma is still being measured, the City of Memphis and #GrizzNation stand ready to help.
Oklahoma is full of strong, capable and resilient people who have overcome countless tragedies over the decades. There is little doubt they will RISE UP once again following this tornado. That doesn’t mean that a little help isn’t needed and welcomed. The team at Welcome to Loud City has compiled a wonderful resource of information about the conditions in Oklahoma and instructions about how we can help. Also, here is the link for the American Red Cross and Animal Resources Center of Oklahoma City, two organizations in need of our support. I encourage you all to head to these sites and help in any way you can. Also, if you are organizing any relief efforts and/or collection drives here in Memphis, please let us know so that we can help publicize them.
Some things transcend sports, offering a perspective we wish we never needed. In these tragic moments are opportunities for those of us fortunate enough to be unaffected to stand up and offer a helping hand. These are opportunities to showcase the better side of rivalry.
Pray for Oklahoma, Memphis.
MEMPHIS AREA RELIEF EFFORTS -