Sports, for over 100 years sports have brought joy to the people of the United States. During the Great Depression, baseball brought joy to a nation crumbling at its seams. During the Civil Rights movement, athletes of color did more than just play a game, they worked on a platform that allowed them to speak volumes about a situation while never saying a single word. Sports have been an outlet for people to come together when things are bad and to celebrate when things are going well. The power of this community is unlike any other.
On September 11, 2001, the world and America changed forever. Americans felt a pain and fear in them that hadn’t been felt before, and in the midst of this pain and fear there was a hole in the heart of America. Americans were in need of a distraction and sports offered that distraction. The New York Yankees played the Chicago White Sox in game three of the 2001 World Series of baseball just days after the tragic event.
The commemorative first pitch was due to be given by the then president George W. Bush. Bush had gone to practice his pitch in the batting cages under Yankee Stadium, and that was where he met legendary baseball star Derek Jeter. Jeter was sure to let Bush know that his pitch had to be a strike. Everyone knew that this was more than just a first pitch, this was symbolic of something that was bigger than baseball as a whole; this was about power and strength in times of despair.
When America watched their president walk onto that field to throw out the first pitch for America’s team in New York just days after the 9/11 attacks, there was a sense of unity. When President Bush threw a strike straight down the middle of home plate America felt a brief relief from the terror that had lingered since the attacks. The nation felt whole again and was able to put all differences aside to enjoy what was in front of them.
Another example of the impact sports can have on individual communities is the story of what happened in New England after the Boston Bombings. On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon was ran. The marathon is a Boston tradition that has long been a staple in the New England community. During the race up against the finish line two bombs detonated in the crowd. The attack shocked New England in a way not felt since the Revolutionary War. The city of Boston was shaken, emotionally damaged and living in a state of disbelief. In this state, the city needed something to look to for inspiration and the easiest place to look for this inspiration was to one of Boston’s most enduring institutions, its identity. Boston Sports.
It was said best by former Boston Celtics’ head coach Doc Rivers in an interview with ESPN, “We needed a gigantic church, we needed a gathering and a gathering that brings people together, and sports are the biggest venues to do that.” Following the bombings, the first game to be played in Boston was by the Boston Bruins in the TD Garden. The Bruins have a tradition for home games like Rene Rankort singing the National Anthem over 1400 times, but this time it was different. Rankort himself was broken up but when the entire crowd in the TD Garden jumped in to sing the Star-Spangled Banner with him. There was perseverance in the city and it was glistening through.
The Red Sox were on a visiting stand in Cleveland for three days after the bombings and by the time they had returned to Fenway one suspect had been killed and another was in custody. The city, however, was still shaken and needed its rock. The team had procured a jersey while in Cleveland bearing the Boston area code, 617, and read “Boston Strong.” The team had from that day forward played for the city and for those who were directly affected by the bombings. On their first game back, the Red Sox brought out the first responders and victims of the bombings to throw out the first pitch. Then, from the team who defines the city most, its player who’s loved best had his chance to speak the loudest. David Ortiz did not plan his speech but his words were heartfelt and gave the city life and hope. He said:
"All right, Boston. This jersey that we wear today, it doesn't say 'Red Sox.' It says 'Boston.' We want to thank you, Mayor [Thomas] Menino, Governor [Deval] Patrick, the whole police department for the great job that they did this past week.
This is our f------- city. And nobody's going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
From that point on, the city of Boston was no longer in fear. The city was in a state of rebirth; never before had the city come together like it had in those following weeks. The Red Sox went on to play the rest of their season with “Boston Strong” cut into the outfield and had an amazing comeback season going on to win the World Series, making a stop at the marathon finish line during their World Series parade. Every team continued to honor victims and first responders for the whole year. The Celtics went as far as to award Robert Wheeler with recognition for his actions, one of the heroic runners who went into the bombing to help those who were injured, during halftime of their game in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Sports have long given communities a sense of unity, and when communities are faced with adversity sports never ceases to come through and give a form of distraction mixed with empowerment. Although not all enjoy sports, it is undeniable that the effects that teams have on the personality of cities and states are larger than just the number of dollars they bring in yearly. The effect is greater than just the number of championships and games won. Sports connect people in times of greatness and in times of downfall. Sports can’t remove the scars of adversity, but they can fill the holes in the hearts of cities everywhere.