by Nicholas Toland
It’s not just thousands of people yelling at something they have no control over. It’s not just forgotten as soon as it ends. It’s not something that just doesn’t matter. It’s not just a race.
As America recovers from two blasts that shook the nation into fright and disarray, we are reminded yet again why sports are intertwined in the fabric that holds us together during the times something is trying to pull us apart.
Last week Boston was forced to face America’s greatest fear— a terrorist attack within the nation’s own borders.
Worse yet, the attack occurred during Boston’s premier sporting event—the world’s oldest annual marathon, a race that attracts over 500,000 spectators and 30,000 participants and decorates the city with innumerable flags and posters supporting each member of the race.
It is a cherished and sacred event that pays tribute to the earliest marathons of ancient Greece in which wars would cease and peace would be able to flourish under the protection of pure athletic competition, respect and honor.
All that and more was violated last Monday when a two young men placed pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the marathon.
Families and fans by the thousands were there, waiting for their husbands, wives, children, co-workers, friends and colleagues to complete the 26.2-mile running tour of Boston. After Monday, some will never stop waiting.
The glimmer of hope and joy that can be found after tragedies similar to the one last week is the collective feeling of grief and shock that transforms into pride and love—a transformation most visibly seen at sporting events not just in Boston, but around the entire country. Throughout major league baseball on the day of the attack, fans of every team stood in silence to honor those who lost their lives.
While the games in Boston were cancelled due to fear of another attack since the suspects were still at large in the city, players and fans in every sport paid their respects to Boston.
Fans of all ages and ethnicities held up signs that read, “Boston Will Overcome” or “We Love Boston.” Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ben Revere taped “Pray for Boston” on the outside of his glove for his game against the Cincinnati Reds that night to pay his respects for the three killed and hundreds injured earlier that day.
Later in that game he sprinted 30 feet on a fly ball before laying out a full five feet above the ground to make one of the best catches we’ll see this year.
The University of Massachusetts football team dressed for their spring game by putting on their jerseys as they always do, but this time the name on the back was replaced with a name of one of the Boston marathon victims.
While heading past the infamous Yankee Stadium where Boston and New York fans meet to continue the most storied rivalry in sports nobody could miss the giant banner on the front of the stadium reading “United We Stand,” separating the Yankee and Red Sox logo, but not the two cities.
If you were driving on the Major Deegan Expressway passing the white pillars of the Bronx’s coliseum, you drove to your destination with chills on your back.
The Boston Bruins were faced with the trying task of playing the first game in Boston amidst the ongoing chaos and distraught engulfing the city.
They met the challenge with a strength and courage many may not have been able to find if the game was not there to get them through it. Hockey wasn’t serving as a distraction, but a source of inspiration.
For those who missed 21,000 Bostonians scream the national anthem before the puck dropped, I strongly suggest watching it.
My fears were gone.
Athletes and fans will continue to support Boston through sports just as Boston has supported other cities when tragedy has struck. The support displays one of the defining features of sports—its ability to bring people together despite past rivalries or disputes that have taken place on or off the field.
When the New York Jets and Giants squared off in an inter-city showdown with the title of best football team in New York on the line, players and fans embraced before and after the game in search of support after 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary.
When the Giants hosted the Philadelphia Eagles at the end of the season, the team also invited 400 Newtown residents to come share their grief and hope with 80,000 people and NFL athletes who held some of the children’s hands as they walked onto the field.
Connecticut is divided when it comes to sports, but that day it did not matter. A sign was lifted during the game that simply said, “We Are Sandy Hook.”
In each sporting event after the marathon bombings we are united on and off the field.
We are singing our anthem before a game in unison. We are remembering and recovering with thousands. We are Boston.
Once again people are reminded of the significant role sport plays in connecting entire communities and cities, people of different ethnicities, gender, age and faith into one setting and common agenda. Sports are meant for entertainment and joy, regardless of whether or not your team wins.
This idea was threatened last week by a few who believed endangering a sporting site of such a grand scale like the Boston Marathon would tarnish our ability to feel safe and cheerful among fellow fans.
As we have seen this past week, that clearly is not going to happen.
Every sporting event in Boston will sell out these next few months. Marathon runners, Boston police and emergency responders will be honored through every minute of every game, because they deserve a public space to be remembered.
Security will increase, but once the game starts, fans will care more for the safe feeling of a family of thousands surrounding them.
When Boston comes together to celebrate Patriots’ Day next year, I guarantee it will be the largest celebration in the history of the Marathon.