The healing power of sports
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 00:09
Yesterday Americans marked the eleventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that took the lives of more than 2,000 people. On that fateful morning in 2001, the entire world came to a halt as our country entered one of its darkest hours. All around the country, sporting events were postponed in wake of the attacks to honor the victims. Eventually, though, the games began again and so did the long process of healing.
One game and one moment that neither I, nor baseball fans, will ever forget was the first Major League Baseball game after the attacks. It took place in New York’s Shea Stadium and featured two of the games’ bitterest rivals, the Mets and the Braves. On this night, however, we weren’t Mets or Braves fans, we were baseball fans coming together to bring a sense of normalcy to our lives that had been taken earlier in the month.
That night there was a different feeling at Shea. The whole park was on edge and there was question as to whether or not baseball should be played. All doubt was soon forgotten when Mike Piazza stepped into the batter’s box with the Mets down a run late in the game. Piazza crushed a pitch off of Atlanta’s Steve Karsay that sailed over the wall in left center field, as Shea Stadium erupted into pandemonium.
It was as if the city was letting out a big sigh of relief. Members of the FDNY and NYPD were scattered throughout the crowd and could be seen cheering for their beloved “Amazin’s” after losing best friends and colleagues merely days prior. This game would not make up for the immense loss of life, but it reminded us as Americans that it’s OK to cheer again, and carry on our lives the way we did before that Sept. 11 morning.
Sports have a unique way of bringing us together when we’re at our lowest point. Here at UConn, it was sports that helped the community deal with the loss of one of our own after the murder of cornerback Jasper Howard. On Nov. 21, 2009, the Huskies defeated Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. To this day it is the signature victory of the football program, not just because we beat the Irish, but because of the manner in which we did it.
Andre Dixon scored on a 4-yard run in double overtime to seal a 33-30 victory for the Huskies. As the UConn sideline erupted into celebration, Howard’s No. 6 jersey was carried around the field in celebration of the win and the life he led while wearing the blue and white. I had the opportunity to watch the game on TV, but I can only imagine the emotion that UConn fans in attendance must have felt after that victory.
At Virginia Tech, after the one of the worst mass shootings in school history, the first major sporting event on campus was a football game against East Carolina. Before kickoff, the 32 victims of the shooting were honored with a military fly-over in the “missing man” formation as well as the release of balloons. Once the game began, life finally returned to normal in Blacksburg and once again healing was found on a football field.
When times are tough, like many, I turn to sports for an escape. Sports should never be the be-all and end-all in a person’s life, even though we may sometimes act like it is. But often, it’s sports that bring families, communities and even countries together when facing tragedy. So the next time somebody says “it’s only a game,” I will smile and say nothing, because I know in my heart the true healing power of sports.