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Becker: The Power Sports Has To Heal a Broken Nation

Graphic by Lindsay Schuring

I remember coming home from school on Sept. 11, 2001. My family and I were living in Singapore at the time, so it felt like a normal day. The only difference was that when my brother and I got off the bus, my mom wasn’t there to greet us. When we got home, we found her in the kitchen crying. Although we were half a world away from the events that transpired that day, my mom’s pain was evidence of the horror. She knew people who would never return home from lower Manhattan.

I can only imagine what that day must have been like in Fairfield, Connecticut, where my parents are from. The same pain that my mom felt in the kitchen, which was so visceral to me, reverberated through an entire city and country. In that moment, we felt small, helpless and isolated. With so much damage that took place, who was to say we were safe? Could this great country protect us, even if our patriotism was founded in the belief that we are the greatest nation in the world? In that moment, it didn’t feel like it.

Those feelings dissipated. Time certainly helped, but it wasn’t just that. My 5-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend this, but a return to normalcy is what helped ease the fears of so many Americans. Falling back into a routine was a reminder that we are the greatest country in the world, our military is the best, our influence is the largest and our sports are the most competitive and riveting of anyone’s in the world. Fandom and competition are some of life’s great connectors, and America’s pastime seemed to give people the push they needed to keep going through those troubling times.

I think there are two reasons for this. One, we look up to professional athletes in this country. When our inspirations and role models say it’s time to forge ahead, we listen. When it’s the greatest sports franchise in the world and the president of the United States is there to echo that message, what else, as Americans, can we do but follow their lead?

The “Core Four” are arguably the greatest group of players the New York Yankees have ever put on the field together. I may be a little biased as I grew up with a Derek Jeter fathead on my wall, but I also know my baseball history. Five World Series titles don’t just happen, especially in the modern era of baseball, and from 1996 to 2010, Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Petitte (we forgive him for the Houston years) ran New York. They were gods among men, and I would argue that they had more influence in the Big Apple in 2001 than the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

The Yankees helped New York get back on track again. With games pushed back because of the 9/11 tragedies, it was game three of the World Series on Oct. 30, 2001, that seemed to give people the permission they needed to begin again. While President George Bush, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch, certainly played a hand in that, I think a lot of credit must be given to Joe Torre’s men giving us hope again.

The Bronx Bombers’ response to 9/11 is not the only example of sports bringing people together after a tragedy. Another incredible response in the face of extreme hate and disgusting acts of violence took place in Blacksburg, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2007, in response to an April catastrophe, when a student took the lives of 32 students on the Virginia Tech campus before committing suicide.

Opening day of the 2007 football season felt like a turning point for so many members of Hokie nation. That football team seemed to carry their entire school on their backs when running out of that tunnel, and everyone there was reminded of the strength that comes in numbers. The Hokies took down East Carolina for the win, 17-7.

Many people would say that sports serve as a distraction, that these people needed an escape from their lives and they found it in sports. I don’t believe that to be the case. These events, the spectacle, the camaraderie, the passion, all serve as a reminder of how strong we are. This leads me to the second reason why sports play such an important role in helping us move past tragedy: They allow us to build each other up.

I hate the Boston Red Sox. I can’t stand David Ortiz, even if he is now retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him and the words he said at the first Red Sox home game after the Boston Marathon bombing. I have never seen a group of people come together quite the way that Boston did after the brutal events of that 2013 marathon. Every sports team was there for their fans, every person in that city had each other’s back. When the 2014 marathon rolled around, there was sadness, but there was also a resilience that resonated across this country like I had never experienced.

Those events were truly horrific, but the love that followed that moment of darkness in April of 2013 continues to astound me even now.

It’s hard to bring up all of these atrocities again, but it is necessary to understand them if we are to have any appreciation for the responses that came after these times of pain. We have to grasp those reactions because they are such a huge part of what makes us Americans. We, as a united front, can look at evil, stare it right in the eyes and tell it to get out of our country. We will yell at it, time and time again, that it will never be welcomed here. Whatever new form it takes — terrorism, communism, fascism, racism, sexism, whatever — we will be ready to fight it.

While we seem to be at a crossroads in this country, I know that the storm will one day pass. Sports will bring us together and allow us to build each other up at the end of whatever battle we take on, and that makes me proud to be an American.

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