Looking at the headlines on a news website on any given day can often be a depressing experience. The “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality in newsrooms across America and the voraciousness with which the public eat these stories up comprise a true chicken-and-egg relationship, but regardless of which came first, it’s always the most devastating news that gets the most coverage.

Many times, this coverage stems from a conflict of some sort. Whether it’s political, cultural or otherwise, there is plenty of disagreement about plenty of issues all over the world. Before 1991, many headlines in America spoke of conflict with the Soviet Union. For decades, the two countries were locked in a governmental and social stalemate that kept them at constant odds. The United States has also had a rocky relationship with Iran since the 1980s, and even today one can often read foreboding quotes from both sides that serve to stoke the fires of conflict.

It’s extra heartening, then, when one comes across a story whose subjects transcend their differences, however briefly, and unite under the banner of common interest. All too often, stories like this involve sports.

The best recent example of sport serving to unify otherwise antagonistic groups has to be last week’s “Rumble on the Rails” event in New York. The Rumble, which took place in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall, was a wrestling meet that matched the American national team against teams from Iran and Russia in an effort to drum up enough support to convince the International Olympic Committee, who voted recently to excise wrestling from the list of summer events, to instead retain wrestling in the games. There are a handful of reports on the event from folks who were actually there, the best of which is this one from TIME’s Nate Rawlings, so I won’t try to duplicate their detailed accounts of sportsmanship and camaraderie on display in New York last week. I will, however, add my name to the list of those who marveled at the fact that the three countries that are often at odds actually banded together for a common cause.

The fact that the United States, Russia and Iran were able to agree on anything, much less organize a united event that serves the interests of all three, is amazing. The trio of nations is among the most influential and powerful in the world, so it was very encouraging to see them all on the same side of a cause, rather than engaging in the sort of negative rhetoric that has become all too common in the relationships between them. It’s almost too bad North Korea doesn’t have a better Olympic wrestling team, because their inclusion would have made it a veritable quadfecta of potential world piece. (My understanding, though, is that Kim Jong-Un once pinned Kyle Dake, Cael Sanderson and Brock Lesnar all in the same day before taking a time machine, which he invented, back to 1968 and defeating Dan Gable on points.)

It’s not just wrestling that brings people together, though; we’ve seen it happen in a number of different sports. Wisconsin has been a very divided place, politically speaking, since 2011, when groups of thousands gathered for months to protest and argue with one another about a controversial bill that was proposed (and ultimately passed) by the state government. The ordeal strained relationships between even the closest friends and the stereotypical “Midwest niceness” that has come to characterize the region was nowhere to be found. Wisconsinites argued with each other in the most vitriolic possible ways and it seemed like nothing could bring the state’s citizens back together…well, almost nothing.

As soon as summer rolled around and NFL training camps started up, the mood in the state seemed to change, if only for short periods of time. Those short periods became slightly longer stretches when the 2011 NFL season began and people across the state could put down their signs, rest their voices, weary from impassioned debate, and come together to root for the Green Bay Packers. Much like those Civil War stories of Union and Confederate soldiers briefly ceasing fire to celebrate common holidays, citizens from across Wisconsin’s political spectrum forgot about their differences and instead focused on their commonalities. The conflict between different political groups in Wisconsin pales in comparison to the conflict between the United States, Russia and Iran, but in both instances it has been sport that has helped to ease the tensions.

With MMA being a truly global sport, and one without teams associated with specific geographic areas, fans from vastly different social and geographic backgrounds often unite behind a particular fighter, regardless of that fighter’s own nationality. When Anderson Silva faced Chael Sonnen in their rematch at UFC 148 in July 2012, many an American wanted nothing more than for Silva, a Brazilian, to decimate their fellow countryman Sonnen. These fans cared little about the things that made them different from one another and came together to root for someone who marketed himself as one arrogant S.O.B. to get his ass kicked. For years before (and even for a little while after) Silva’s rise to prominence, fans across the globe rooted for Fedor Emelianenko, a Russian, no matter who he fought or where the fight took place. Those are just two examples of how MMA has contributed to the unifying power of sport.

Will “Rumble on the Rails” suddenly negate the decades of conflict between the United States, Russia and Iran? Certainly not. Despite the presence of the Packers, and their relative success in recent seasons, Wisconsin still remains almost comically politically divided (look at the opposite positions of our two U.S. Senators, for example), so one should probably not hold one’s breath that a wrestling event will broker global harmony. It is very encouraging, though, that the differences between us are not so intractable that we can’t come together once in a while to achieve a common goal. In a world all too full of sadness, “Rumble on the Rails” and the unity of sport provide small glimmers of hope.

Photo: Rumble on the Rails

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.