What Whitney Houston Meant to Professional Sports

Everyone with a goal could rally behind her voice, fans and players alike

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George Rose / Getty Images

Singer and actress Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 at Tampa Stadium.

During our 2003 playoff run when I was on the Chicago Cubs we had theme music. Most, if not all of it, was decided by our resident star outfielder and boom-box hog, Sammy Sosa. I must confess that it was my fault that the speakers had blared Whitney Houston during every waking moment that the Cubs clubhouse was open. Sosa used to make me buy music for him, so I should have known from past experience that every time Sosa got hooked on a song, he played it like a home-run trot that never ended, circling the bases until everyone within earshot collapsed from repetition.

This was not during the sweet spot of Whitney Houston’s career mind you. This was the CD called Just Whitney, a comeback of sorts that had a duet with Bobby Brown. At first listen, you pulled for her hoping she could find the magic again and break the curse of slowing sales and fickle opinions. Once it became an expected part of our daily musical landscape (along with 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’) this CD slowly embodied our race to erase 100 years of World Series futility.

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Big-league egos would not want to admit it, but Whitney Houston was a fitting choice for our playoffs run. As we raced towards the NL Central division title, she was already an iconic figure in the world’s locker room. Her music seemed to seep into our consciousness regardless of the role you played or the path you took to become part of the team. In her universal appeal is the spirit of competitive sports. Everyone with a goal could rally behind her music, fans and players alike.

Houston’s was the ultimate sports team music. Olympic in quality and quantity, able to have thugs, supermodels, deacons and journeyman outfielders bob their head in agreement. This turns out to be an absolute necessity for any team that wants to find itself hoisting the trophy by the end of its season and as she proved, necessary for a country competing under its great flag.

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The songs that Houston sang transformed sports. Her version of the National Anthem that she debuted at the Super Bowl was played in baseball stadiums and hockey arenas across the country. Even years later when I was in the Arizona fall league, her rendition haunted us with her voice and by the fact that we had to stand at attention for much longer that the typical pre-game pre-recorded anthem that raced by in one minute. She also sang “One Moment in Time” to inspire our Olympians, and anyone with a pulse for sports, to be great and focus on the idea that it just takes one moment to change the universe.

Her universe seemed to be in contstant flux, very much like a team trekking over 162 games just to have a shot at the next round. The Cubs are still recovering from 2003 and the disappointment that came with how that playoff year ended. A curse persisted, so it was said, and the Cubs and its fans were thrust back into recovery mode.

Houston was also on a road to recovery, winning some, losing some but always in process. Her opportunity to come back on earth as we know it has run out. But I imagine, just like the hopeful fans of the Cubs, she will rise again in her music, and help us understand that recovery is still possible.

(MORE: Whitney Houston: The Prom Queen of Soul)