Sports are a springboard

This year, we’ve seen both the highs and lows of Queen’s Athletics. Athletes helped create change, while the administration lacked transparency

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The first time I saw a plain-clothes police officer inspect the ARC bleachers before a men’s volleyball game, I was a little surprised.

Stephen Harper, our country’s fearless leader, was in town to catch a November game against RMC and spend time with his son Ben, a first-year Gaels outside hitter.

Skeptical of the whole spectacle, I thought, “What’s his angle? What does he get out of all this — face time with young voters?” I figured the excitement would wear off after the visit.

But he came back.

The big man was at most home games this season. He sat at centre court, just a few rows from the floor, surrounded by students and other parents.

He almost blended into the whole scene, if you didn’t notice his handlers everywhere.

But sports are often more than a 90-minute mental timeout. They provide a springboard for valuable discussion and cultural change — something we’ve seen on campus in many ways this year.

The men’s rugby team participates in CIBC’s Run for the Cure every October. This past year, they raised over $42,000 for breast cancer research, education and awareness.

The Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee hosted a speaker series in March where those in attendance learned about concussions, heard personal stories and found out about emerging treatments.

Last month, cancer survivor and former Queen’s baseball player Alex Mann raised $11,750 for Childhood Cancer Canada and the Children’s Wish foundation through an online campaign.

Professional athletes and organizations, meanwhile, have been at the epicentre of discussions on race, sexual orientation, gender and wealth discrepancy.

Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling sparked outrage last April, when racist comments he made to a friend were recorded and made public.

He was criticized almost universally, banned from the NBA and fined $2.5 million.

Michael Sam made sexual orientation a topic of discussion within the American football community when he became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. Mixed martial artist Fallon Fox was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame after becoming the sport’s first openly transgender athlete.

The World Cup in Brazil and the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have brought international media attention to the country, and to the realities of hosting such a large-scale event.

Human rights issues have been a feature of this coverage, much like they were for the 2008 and 2014 Games in China and Russia.

All of these discussions are important, and I’m glad that sports can facilitate them.

Harper, his policies and his party are regular topics of conversation in classrooms and on campus.

Recent debates about the new “Anti-Terrorism Act” and about women who wear the niqab during Canadian citizenship ceremonies mean that the Prime Minister’s name gets thrown around a lot.

Seeing him at Gaels games made part of me wonder, “Shouldn’t he be in Ottawa running the country?”

As he sat among the other parents and the students, all cheering on the team, I forgot — for a moment — that he’s anything more than a proud father.

He was here doing a job equally important to overseeing the country. He was supporting his son.

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