It’s become really hard to believe in the American Dream. When the US President came to London, people filled the streets with signs focused on his immigration policy, his divisive rhetoric and his views on sexuality, gender and race. In a climate where walls are being built, children are being put in cages and the President of the United States describes white nationalists as “very fine people” it’s hard to imagine that the vision of America as the “land of opportunity” exists any more. But in sport, the American Dream does live on, and it demonstrates the power of having a purpose.
Two weeks ago, San Francisco played host to the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Across three days, AT&T Park, usually home to the San Francisco Giants Baseball team, hosted packed out crowds totally engrossed in the high-flying high-energy sport of Rugby Sevens. It’s an event that came with all the glitz and glamour you’d expect from a major US sporting event. The biggest draw? The hometown USA Men’s Sevens team - full of exciting stars who came into the tournament with great expectations. They may have lost in heartbreaking fashion in the quarter-final, but they stole the hearts of local fans.
Read that, and you probably have a vision of a US National team like all the others - well-funded, full of stars, playing every week in front of huge TV audiences and huge stadiums. But you’d be wrong. The USA Men’s Rugby Sevens team isn’t just one of the most interesting teams in sport, they are the living embodiment of the America’s sporting dream.
‘The Pioneers’, as they were christened in a new documentary just released about the team, are a fascinating bunch of individuals with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. The team includes an Olympic standard sprinter, a former NFL wide receiver and several serving members of the US Armed Forces. It has players from all corners of the United States whose families hail from all over the world. The coach, Mike Friday, is a fiercely competitive Londoner. They travel the world in one of sport’s most brutally challenging events, leaving their families behind for weeks and months at a time, but compared to their counterparts in other US sports they are under-paid and under-recognised. Together, they work and work, chasing the ultimate dream of making it big in their own country. They are the American Dream.
Sport for American athletes is about more than just fame or wealth, it is a means of reaching a better life and of improving the world around you. It’s why the players of the USA Sevens team travel around the world chasing their dreams. It’s also why US athletes have become so good at using their unique platform for social good, despite the forces of opposition to it. Look at the NFL players who continue to stand up for what they believe in by kneeling for the National Anthem, even despite constant criticism from the President of their own country. Or NBA players like LeBron James, who has refused Donald Trump’s instruction to “shut up and dribble” and this week opened a school for at-risk children in his home town of Akron Ohio.
American athletes are defined by a purpose, an understanding that sport isn’t just entertainment, but a vehicle for change. Whether it is changing their own lives, the lives of people in their community, or just inspiring people they will never meet, American athletes are united by a common vision for what sport can achieve. According to Webster’s Dictionary the American Dream is “something that can be achieved by anyone in the US especially by working hard and becoming successful”. While their country may be moving further and further from this vision, American athletes still live it, serving as a powerful reminder of just how impactful sport can be, and the power of having a purpose within it.