How sports changed after tragedy

Photo courtesy of Getty Images Fans wave flags at the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium Sept. 21, 2001.

Kyra Ledbetter
Staff writer

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images Fans wave flags at the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium Sept. 21, 2001.

In the wake of every tragedy is a need for escape. The general public can only keep its thoughts on body counts, motives and pain for so long before it turns its eyes elsewhere, hoping for something to capture its attention, even if only for a little while.

As always, sports provided a distraction after the attacks of 9/11, but they also gave their fans a way to move past their grief and offered a hope that our nation still needs.

Almost immediately after 9/11, sports delivered to their fans a kind of catharsis, letting them spend a few hours screaming at a baseball game instead of trying to make sense of the news, and the players certainly felt that burden.

“I’m glad to give people a diversion from the sorrow, to give them a thrill,” Mike Piazza, New York Mets catcher said to CBS Sports at the time. “These people are great. New York has been so strong through all this. I feel so sad.” Almost five years later Piazza added, “In death, those people taught us so much about living.”

But before that game could be played, Piazza and his team offered up their stadium and their services to police, fire fighters and rescue workers trying to do whatever they could as a team to help.

Just 10 days after 9/11 the Mets took to their home field again, acting as more than a baseball team.

They acted as national heroes.

Or at the very least they acted as people who could interpret the language of guilt and grief into something every person watching could understand. It wasn’t just about baseball anymore. It was about finding a way to move forward.

This year is no different.

Ten years later Americans are still trying to find a way to move forward, though the country remains entrenched in the same war begun under the shadow of 9/11. Taking center stage of this Sunday’s events is Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach, who will be facing off against his twin brother Rob Ryan, defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.

But instead of being concerned with the sibling rivalry that game would usually represent, the Jets coach is focused on his responsibility to the fans.

“Usually, like I go against my brother and all that and you have a lot of fun with that, but I feel, I don’t know it’s different, like a responsibility,” Rex Ryan said to ESPN Sept. 6, 2011. “And every week I have a responsibility to make sure our team is prepared but, I don’t know, it just feels different to me. The significance of it, it’s stronger than any game I’ve ever felt. I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I’ve ever coached it seems like.”

Last week, the Jets got a glimpse at the construction being done at the site of the World-Trade Center and left that place a changed team.

“When you go there, there’s a certain aura that you have when you stand there and you just imagine that day and just the chaos and everything that so many families and people went through,” LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets running back said to ESPN on Sept. 5, 2011. “It just gave you that feeling that you’re special. You’re lucky to be standing on that spot, but at the same time you’re special because you get a chance to do something that a lot of people don’t get to do. But it’s very humbling at the same time.”

Again this year, 10 years later, the teams play for more than themselves. They play for the memory of those who died and for the hope that if people can look past their sadness and cheer for the home team, maybe they can move on as a country, too.

Contact Ledbetter