by Clark Groome
The fun and games came to a halt shortly before 3 p.m. on Patriots’ Day.
When the bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon’s finish line – an event that is part sporting event, part party – suddenly became the latest in a series of horrible incidents that destroyed what should have been an escape from the rigors of everyday life.
When those bombs went off our interest in the disappointing start to the Phillies’ season, the disappointing end to the Flyers season, the will-or-won’t-Doug-Collins-resign-as-Sixers-head-coach discussion and the start of the Chip Kelly Eagles era during the team’s first minicamp instantly ceased to have any importance.
Death, destruction and dismemberment on the streets of Boston put things into perspective: the important thing was helping those people in that great city heal, both physically and emotionally.
Clearly the instant response of people in danger themselves who rushed to helped those hurt by the blasts demonstrated once again that good outweighs evil. People who had no idea whether helping would put them in harm’s way didn’t hesitate. It was thanks to those first responders – many of them spectators – that the carnage was less than it might have been.
That the terror was unleashed at a sporting event – as was the case at the 1972 and 1996 Olympics – made it all the more difficult for sports to help with the healing process. Difficult, but not impossible.
While the Bruins game against Ottawa for that Monday was canceled, when the Bs returned to the ice – and national TV – on the following Wednesday against Buffalo, the long-term Bruins anthem singer, Rene Rancourt, dropped out and let the fans sing the anthem. It was an extraordinary moment.
Around Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL, every team saluted Boston and those injured with moments of silence and other tributes. Here in Philadelphia at the Flyers game the day after the bombings, local anthem singer Lauren Hart replaced the Star Spangled Banner with the team’s patented version of “God Bless America” (usually rolled out only for playoff games) that she sings with Kate Smith. The visuals that accompanied “God Bless America” were the heroics performed in the aftermath of the bombings.
The New York Yankees, arguably the Boston Red Sox’ most hated opponent, adorned Yankee Stadium with a panel that said “United We Stand” surrounded by the Yankees and the Red Sox logos.
The Chicago Tribune ran a story entitled “We’re all Boston fans now.” It included a huge graphic that said, “We are Chicago Red Sox; We are Chicago Celtics; We are Chicago Bruins; We are Chicago Patriots; We are Chicago Revolution.” The graphic used the Boston teams’ logos.
Tim Nudd’s copy in part said the following: “We are like you. We know that sports are often the ties that hold us together, that give us a way to talk about things we care about when other words fail. We know sports can be fun – even in losing. … [O]n Monday, we were reminded again how fragile it all can be. The explosions and injuries and death at a world-class sporting event such as the Boston Marathon make us heartsick. As much as it is anathema for a Chicago fan to root for any other town – especially Beantown and all of its championship rings – here we are. Hang in there, Boston”
Phillly fans are equally reluctant to root for any other town, especially Boston (and, of course, New York). But local loyalists share Nudd’s sentiment that Boston hang in there.
While the horror of the events at the Marathon started at a sporting event, it is sports – as it was after President Kennedy was shot, after September 11, and after the tragedy of Newtown – that help with the healing.
All of this reminds me of what the Phillies long-time public relations chief Larry Shenk, now retired, said before the first Phillies game after 9/11: “It’s the human race, not the pennant race, that we’re worried about.”
For all the controversy that surrounds so many athletes and so much that happens on and off the field/court/ice, let’s hope we can use sports as a positive force in the healing process.
Emblematic of all that is good about sports was what Ben Revere did during the game the night of the bombings. He wrote “Pray for Boston” in his glove. That image went viral and garnered praise from all over the country and gratitude from Bostonians.
Boston’s tough. Boston will recover. So will the rest of us. Sports, and those who play them, root for them and report about them, are already aiding in that recovery.