If you’ve consistently read the Alligator’s sports section this semester (ha), you may have noticed the absence of a word that’s become ubiquitous in sports journalism.
That word is adversity, and in the Alligator’s sports pages, we’ve avoided it whenever possible. In every story that originally mentioned how softball pitcher Aleshia Ocasio overcame the adversity of facing a bases-loaded situation or questioned how the men’s basketball team would overcome the adversity of a two-game losing streak, the word was removed.
Why? Because sports adversity isn’t real adversity. And overuse cheapens it in many cases.
Now, there are certainly cases where the word does apply to sports. A player overcoming homelessness, the loss of a twin sister or a horrible injury certainly qualifies as “overcoming adversity.” But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the stories that call coming back from a tough, last-second loss or an injury to a key player “adversity.” For example, take a look at these quotes from UF football players:
“Spring has been challenging,” defensive end Antonneous Clayton said. “It’s been a lot of adversity that I needed to get through, but my team has helped me through at, like, all of the way.”
Then there’s running back Jordan Scarlett:
“It was challenging dealing with the ups and downs and the quarterback changes, people getting hurt, defensive guys getting hurt,” he said. “But you know, that’s what coach Mac builds us for. You fight through adversity. That’s exactly what we did.”
Finally, there’s lineman David Sharpe.
“The game isn’t easy,” he said, “and... we’re gonna face adversity. That’s why we play.”
Now, I don’t mean to call out these players. Adversity is a natural go-to word when talking about athletic hardships. Like I said before, it’s ubiquitous. Everyone uses it. But that doesn’t mean it should be that way.
Adversity, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.” The key word there is serious.
Sports are not serious. No matter how much money they make or how much catharsis they provide, sports are games. They’re supposed to be fun. And sure, hardships, struggles and difficulties happen in sports. Some peoples’ livelihoods depend on sports.
But compared to the hardships suffered by children dying from famine, people who can’t afford homes, folks suffering from mental illness or any other real adversity, sports just aren’t on the same plane, and it cheapens true struggles when we use the same word to describe someone who overcame the adversity cancer as we do for someone who overcame the “adversity” a poor performance in the 100-meter dash.
When asked on Monday if the word adversity is overused in sports, coach Jim McElwain didn’t really answer the question. However, he did provide one useful insight.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from,” he said. “There’s some adversity that’s come in your life.”
He’s right about that. Surely all of the aforementioned athletes have faced true adversity at some point in their lives.
So why cheapen that adversity by using the word in relation to their on-field performances?
Offensive lineman David Sharpe, right, stands over quarterback Austin Appleby during Florida's loss to Florida State on Nov. 26, 2016, in Tallahassee.