“Ideas are indeed the most dangerous weapons in the world. Our ideas of freedom are the most powerful weapons man has ever forged. If we remember that, we will never have much to fear.”
–William O. Douglas, former Supreme Court Justice
“Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, and knows no discouragement.“
I came home from work Tuesday, and there was my little boy, 15 months old, laughing and playing just like always. But it wasn’t like any other day. On this day, the sweet innocence of this little boy was juxtaposed against the carnage that was on television. And all I wished was to be in his shoes; to be sweet and small and innocent, just so I wouldn’t have to know what was going on.
Just days ago, I was teaching the little guy to throw a baseball, dreaming of his future as a star athlete. Now I only think, what kind of world will this boy grow up in? Will there be a world to grow up in?
Like everyone, I am angry, disturbed, scared, shocked and many other things. Somehow, we will all cope. For me, it comes in writing this column, and seeing my wife and child when I come home each night. Soon it will be in escaping inside the entertainment of a sporting event.
But not right now.
Right now there is work to do, and other things to think about. The sports world is on hold, and that’s the way it has to be … for just a little bit longer. Hopefully not too much longer.
In the rigors of our daily lives, sports is often a refuge. But, it can also be more than that. For as trivial as sports can be, it can also be a powerful part of our lives.
When the United States stunned the Soviet Union by winning that hockey game in a snowy hamlet in upstate New York in 1980, the nation shouted in triumph with the same “U-S-A, U-S-A” vigor you hear today. This wasn’t the melodramatic, phony-patriotic reaction you see in today’s Olympic coverage, this was a genuine reaction that truly rallied the nation. Against a backdrop of high inflation, Soviets in Afghanistan, and Iranians holding U.S. Hostages, this win gave the nation hope in a very real way that cannot be underestimated.
In 1991, with the Gulf War just starting, the NHL held their All-Star Game in Chicago. They couldn’t have picked a better place. Already known for its renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner, Chicago Stadium rocked with a 2-minute long outpouring of emotion and patriotism, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when it ended.
Wednesday, an AHL colleague relayed the story of being up until 7 a.m. Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. He works for the St. John’s Maple Leafs in Newfoundland, Canada, and the new arena they have erected is housing a crisis center, where many of the passengers from redirected U.S. flights ended up. New York’s Shea and Yankee Stadium are staging areas for many of the rescue teams.
Anywhere we turn, sports is there, as a symbol of what we are, for better or for worse.
But sports also has the power to heal, to teach life lessons, and to unite people. And there’s nothing wrong with saying we get these things from sports.
So I am looking forward to finding more inspiration from sports. I am looking forward to cheering again.
But not right now.
Right now, I will take inspiration in any little sliver I can get it. Such as the scene in downtown Philadelphia on Friday, where I arrived with my little carload of supplies to help the Salvation Army efforts, only to spend hours helping to load mountains of similar items onto upwards of 20 large trucks, on their way to New York.
It was a temporary respite from this unshakeable feeling I have. Unnerved is the best way to describe it.
I cannot remember feeling like this since I was 6 years old and our house was robbed. We came home one night — in fact, I was at a Mets/Yankees Mayor’s Trophy exhibition game they used to play annually — and found things missing. Shortly thereafter, I remember a police officer being in our house, telling us we were unlikely to get our things back. I then remember hearing my father say a phrase that I had never heard before: “He is shaking like a leaf,” he said, in reference to me. Whenever I hear that phrase, I remember where I first learned what it meant.
At that point, as a six-year old, you cannot possibly feel more vulnerable and afraid as knowing a strange intruder violated your home. Now, with a much larger perspective on the world, it is the same. Another strange and unknown intruder has violated my home, the United States of America.
More specifically, I also consider New York my home. I haven’t really lived in the city since I was a young kid, but you know how the saying goes: You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy. I had just visited downtown Manhattan two weeks ago, walking around Greenwich Village, just soaking up all that I love about the place.
I love the mountains of the Adirondacks, Central New York’s Finger Lakes, or Lake Placid. But skylines are beautiful, too. I drive past New York City often. I never get tired of looking at the skyline.
But now something is wrong.
I was rooting so hard for those buildings to just stay erect. Sitting in my office, trying not to appear like too much of a mess, not willing to believe the buildings could actually crumble. “Stay up, stay up,” I said to myself, rooting like I was at Shea Stadium in October.
New York City has lost its two front teeth. It feels naked.
The City is a microcosm of the nation. It’s considered the big bully that many parts of the country love to hate. Since 1994, every time a New York team wins a sports championship, people from other parts of the country wait for a riot. They are still waiting.
New York has all that money, and all those people, and all those big buildings, and smog, and nasty people.
Yes, New York is a microcosm for the United States … and don’t think those bastards didn’t know it.
But New Yorkers aren’t nasty; they aren’t rude. It’s a front, don’t you understand? It’s a tough skin, where, in a fast-paced city at the heart of a ever-shrinking world, people must put up that front to survive.
Then, this tragedy happens, and the facade goes away. The bravery and heroism comes out, our hearts are on our sleeves, and we all stick together.
Just like America.
To the terrorists, we are too weak, because we are too free and care too much about each individual life.
Sports is also part of what these terrorists see wrong about us. Too much money, too much freedom, and too much leisure time on our hands. A bunch of slovenly beer-swilling football fans kicking back on their 57-inch HDTV, paid for on money made by selling junk bonds.
But as Dick Gephart said, “Terrorists think freedom is our weakness. It is our strength.”
Soon, we will all be able to laugh again … Soon, we will all be able to cheer again. Hopefully, very soon.
But not right now.