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How stories help make sense of sports and life, part 2

Stories Sports & Life logo (Credit: Mark Cook)Stories help us make sense of life. They always have, and even though we're living in the 140-character, Twitter-dominated world, they always will. While we may swim in an ocean of sound-bytes and bullet-points and clamor for summaries and distillations of information, we are still most influenced by the stories we hear and tell. Last week I wrote some initial thoughts about how stories help us make sense of sports and life, and focused on how we like to categorize players with all-manner of narrative labels.

This week I want to take things a bit further and explore the categories we use to label teams. One reason we like to label both players and teams is that it helps them stand out in our memories when we're looking back. Even over just a 5-7 year span of time, if you are a fan of multiple sports, there are hundreds of teams and players that cycle through your memory. It's hard to differentiate them from the blurry mass if you don't have categories to help provide context. So with that said, here are some of the common team labels we use in sports:

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Yaya Touré and racism in sports

Yaya Toure (R), a forward for Manchester City in the English Premier League, celebrates with teammate James Milner (L) after scoring his first of two goals against Swansea City at The Liberty Stadium, May 17, 2015 (Credit: PA Wire)"How do you feel when soccer fans direct monkey chants at you during games?" It's a question Yaya Touré, the midfielder for Manchester City who hails from the Ivory Coast, has become all too familiar with and one that could be asked of a number of African-born professional soccer players.  His answer is refreshingly honest: "It's difficult to deal with that…As a sportsman, you want to finish the game but when you hear that, it breaks you. It's not easy to experience that."

In a recent CNN article titled "Yaya Touré: 'Monkey chants break you'" Matias Grez examined racism in soccer and the steps FIFA and others are taking to create a safer environment for its players and fans. While racism and discrimination are problems throughout the professional circuit, the incident to which Touré referred occurred while playing at CSKA Moscow. FIFA finds that fact particularly troubling considering Russia is set to host the next World Cup in 2018. The team was given a $56,000 fine and forced to close portions of its stadium as a penalty for their fans' behavior.

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How stories help make sense of sports and life, part 1

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez talks to reporters in the visitors dugout before the Yankees’ American League baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts August 16, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder)"Sportswriters are comparative mythologists at heart." So said Bryan Curtis in a Grantland piece about Alex Rodriguez and the way the media has labeled him as he has changed over the course of his career.

In any good story, characters fit a certain generally accepted mold. On the highest level, it's heroes vs. villains. Classic comic book stories embody this good vs. evil battle, and feature prominent heroes like Captain America, Superman, and Batman. In our increasingly skeptical, fragmented society, we've had a difficult time coming up with our own protagonists, so we've largely gone back in time to fill the need for heroes by digging up comic book characters. In the modern era of Millennials, who live and breathe the postmodern worldview, we like to deconstruct everything and collapse traditional narrative types by introducing multi-faceted, quirky lead characters who do not fit into any preconceived "box". Millennials hate being labeled, after all.

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