Recently, I embarked on a two day tour of New York City. On the first day of the trip, the train pulled into the darkness of the terminal. As my brother and I exited the train and headed up the steps into Grand Central Station, there were people everywhere. We made the short walk up to Times Square. From the neon lights, to the sounds, to the smells that are distinctly New York, it was sensory overload to the extreme. We were certainly not in Maine anymore.
From the hustle and bustle of Times Square, we made the journey towards lower Manhattan, past Trump Tower and the Empire State Building. Following a six mile walk, we reached our final destination for the day, The World Trade Center Memorial and Museum. This spot, where two monumental skyscrapers once stood, is now commonly referred to as Ground Zero.
There are certain moments in our nation’s collective history which leave an indelible impression in our minds and in our spirits. No matter how long we live, we remember where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, and what we were feeling. Most of us throughout our lifetimes will have only a handful of moments which pass this test.
As a forty-five year old, there are really only four events for me which are in that realm. The first would be the Space Shutter Challenger disaster, the second was when Magic Johnson announced to the world he is H.I.V. positive. I still remember watching the NBA Finals with breaking news of O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco leading police on a chase through the freeways of L.A. The fourth and final event which carries such magnitude was the fateful morning in which terrorists hijacked commercial jets and slammed them into the World Trade Center towers and The Pentagon.
The second day of our New York stint was a stark contrast to this visit as we toured Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty represents such promise to those seeking refuge from oppression. It speaks to the ideals that we should all strive for as Americans, above all else freedom and to allow all of the world’s people to live likewise. Just across the harbor from this site of pure evil and destruction was Lady Liberty holding her torch for all to see.
As we toured the artifacts at Ground Zero that day, I couldn’t help but reflect back to that fateful day. It was as if the world stood still. It did really. Americans were glued to their televisions, reliving the horror of what happened that morning. We watched as brave first responders risked their own safely to rescue others.
Not only do I remember that horrid day, I recollect a very different America in the days to come. Following the events of 9/11, we were actually nicer to each other. There was a unity in which we hadn’t witnessed in quite some time. Many who let their faith become callous started filling the pews in churches again. Despite this horrific event, it was also a glorious time to be an American. Unfortunately, this feeling of unity didn’t last long.
Even the sports world, appropriately enough, stood still. There would be no Major League Baseball during the week. The National Football League postponed all of its weekend contests. In observance of the National Day of Remembrance, as declared by President Bush, all high school football games scheduled for Friday night were moved to Saturday.
When it came time to resume games, athletics helped unify us. Sports have a way of unifying people like few other arenas can. At a ballgame we are not Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, white collar or blue collar. We are all sports fans and more importantly we are all Americans. The National Anthem in the days following 9/11 was not simply a trite ritual that transpired before the start of the game. Despite our differences, we all stood tall and proud.
Sports serve as a needed respite and did so during that time. As the people in the Houston area recover from the devastation in their communities, the local sports teams will serve as a beacon of light and respite for those who so desperately need it. Sports can never bring back our loved ones or reverse tragic situations, but they can serve as a salve for a few hours to allow us to carry on.
As I visited, paused, and reflected upon the events of September 11th, 2001, I am reminded how intertwined sports and society really are. A game sometimes isn’t just a game, it has the power to bring us together in ways few other things can.
Like and follow The Press Box with Bob Beatham on Facebook. The Facebook page will have my weekly column as well as video commentary about the happenings in high school and youth sports. I will also periodically post observations about contests I have witnessed. You’ll be able to keep up to date on when I’ll be doing Facebook live broadcasts.