It is easy to dismiss sports as an unnecessary distraction, diverting the interest of the public from real-world issues that actually matter. Athletes today, although talented, are grossly overpaid. Some fans – not all – who attend games become violent and irrational. In the case of superstars, it is not uncommon to hear of players whose egos have grown so big that they believe that they can get away with anything. All of these issues combined indicate that maybe we do give an enormous amount of attention to something that is meant to be a momentary escape from our lives.
But then something like the Boston Marathon bombing happens and we see the other side of our love for sports. After the bombs went off, it would have been easy to predict complete chaos, but that is not what happened. There’s the now-famous photograph of Carlos Arredondo, cowboy hat and all, wheeling a man who had just had his legs blown off. NBC Sports Network’s Twitter feed reported that some runners ran straight to hospitals to donate blood after crossing the finish line. Fatefully, from all the other people who donated that day, the Red Cross tweeted it had enough blood. People offered shelter to those caught in the aftermath as officials struggled to piece the situation together. All of these great works of kindness and compassion proved that Mister Rogers’ iconic quote, that one about “look for the helpers,” is true.
The outflow of support did not stop there. Throughout the country, Americans showed their support for Boston. One of the most notable public statements was given by what many Bostonians refer to as the Evil Empire: the New York Yankees. The hated rivals of the Boston Red Sox played their enemy’s traditional song, “Sweet Caroline,” during a game at Yankee Stadium the next day.
And then there’s the rallying cry, already printed on T-shirts and baseball caps and bracelets: Boston Strong. Is it a marketing ploy to make some quick money? To a degree, certainly.
But there’s also a reason why people would want to buy this kind of stuff. The noblest outcome of sports is that they bring people together. Normally, this means that a group of individual players can become a team and, if they are lucky, a family. In the face of unspeakable sorrow, the family extends to every single person who hears about the incident. Sometimes, consolation and an acknowledgement of support is one of the best medicines around.
The disaster does not have to be strictly related to sports. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans, a heartbroken population mourned a city in shambles. The New Orleans Saints had to relocate for a year, as the Louisiana Superdome was completely unusable. When the team returned in 2006, the Saints’ loyal fans created an insane level of crowd noise and were rewarded when, barely a minute into the game, Steve Gleason’s blocked punt and Curtis Deloatch’s recovery in the endzone not only started a remarkable season in which the Saints finished 10-6, but also brought fans even closer together. Just four years after the disaster, New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, capping a spectacular redemption and reclamation of a city through the power of sports.
The list of tragedies lessened by sports goes on: The Red Sox supported the Yankees after 9/11, even though the New York Mets arguably stole the show by winning their first game after the attack. Way back in 1941, the national pastime of baseball continued on even after America entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. In Newtown, Conn., a visit by the New York Knicks and a buzzer-beating three-pointer did what they could to take residents’ minds off the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In no instance do the sporting events magically make everything better. They simply serve to bring people together to form bonds and begin the healing process.