On the John
One team, one field
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on September 25, 2001
Placed 13th for the opinion-writing portion of the Hearst Journalism Award
A funny thing happened this week at sports arenas across America. One team showed up at each game, and that team had one set of fans. Jersey colors were incidental. In fact, no one even noticed them.
The jersey colors that were important were the red, white, and blue stitched in and stamped on. The New York Mets wore hats and helmets on the field that said “FDNY” and “NYPD,” and embraced the Atlanta Braves on the field, the team that they were chasing in a now inconsequential pennant race. Meanwhile, some 2900 miles away, the Seattle Mariners had just clinched their division for the first time since 1997. It was their 106th win of the season, giving them a chance to win the most games in MLB history. But as the game ended, there was no Mariner celebration, but instead a group of Americans standing on the field holding an American flag. All week long, our heroes were proven human, while regular humans became heroes.
When the issue of canceling last weekend’s games first came up, I was opposed. I understood the two sides of the issue, and regardless of the decision I felt that what was done would have both positive and negative effects. For me, sports on the weekend, particularly football on Sunday is very American, and if people were really serious about getting on with life, then athletes should too. Also, I felt that the games could serve as a break from what would be five days of suffering and prayer.
However, football is an emotional game, and the players had their emotions in other places, just like the rest of us. Many players, including Jet quarterback Vinny Testaverde, did not want to play, and said that they wouldn’t even if the games were on. Baseball players were caught out of town, and many had trouble getting home. So we took a week off from sports, and in that week we learned a lot about the people we admire.
I saw the San Francisco 49ers giving blood as a team while the New York Giants and Jets helped rescue workers on the streets. I saw the Pittsburgh Pirates hand out “I love New York” buttons before a game and I saw baseball teams across the country stand in unison as St Louis Cardinal announcer Jack Buck addressed the nation. Team cheers were replaced by team prayers, and team songs were replaced by “God Bless America.”
This week’s games reminded me of the Super Bowl played on January 27, 1991, with the country in the middle of the Gulf War. Like during that game, there was a sense of patriotism and togetherness this week, with sports acting not as a diversion but rather serving as a unifier during hard times.
The tragedy was still very much in the minds of Americans while watching these games, but we had a week to grieve, heal, reflect, and live. President Bush wants to show the terrorists that they have not damaged our resolve. The fact is, however, that they have. What is important now is to band together as a nation and gain strength through each other.
Sports can be a great tool for healing, and when I looked at the field of play and the fans in the stands, I not only saw the athletes giving the fans strength, but also the fans giving the athletes strength. We have banded together as a people, and while we saw the true place that sports has in society, we also saw the true power that it has.
Copyright 2001, jm silverstein