Columnists, Sports

Going For Two: How the Paris attacks reveal sports are bigger than ourselves

The Stade de France plays host to the French national soccer team. PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Islamic State Group carried out attacks in Paris Friday that led to the horrifying deaths of at least 129 people. These attacks were carried out in retaliation to France’s leadership in the Western World, placing the nation, according to an ISIS statement made after the attacks, “on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State.”

The attacks happened at numerous places throughout the City of Lights, among them was the Bataclan concert hall, where 89 people were slain by terrorists. Another was the Stade de France, where two suicide bombers attempted to infiltrate the stadium where more than 80,000 were watching France and Germany square off in soccer.

It is global tragedies like these that force all of us to sit back and reflect on the things we hold near and dear to our hearts, to really look at the things and people we truly love. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, when two hijacked airplanes crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center, we were once again forced to reflect on the fragility and the constantly fleeting nature of life.

With current tragedies, we still weep for the victims, mourn for the families, seethe with rage over the culprits and hope and pray for justice. But, ever so slowly, we pick our friends and our neighbors up and assure them and ourselves that life goes on and things will get better.

It is in this harrowing aftermath that we look for something to remind us of the good in humanity, of the good in people. I have always found solace and consolation in the forever bonding nature of sports. Something seen as so arbitrary and so divisive among players and fan bases actually has the power to unite us all. Sometimes people who have been through tragedy and anguish just need something to make them believe again.

After the 9/11 attacks, many in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs looked to baseball and their beloved New York Yankees to bring a fallen city back to its feet. On Oct. 30, 2001, President George W. Bush walked to the mound at a silent Yankee Stadium. Wearing a New York City Fire Department jacket, he threw the ceremonial pitch right down the middle — a perfect strike. It seemed as if the whole world clapped, cheered and wept as Bush, draped in the gear of 343 fallen members of New York City’s bravest, silently assured them that all would be okay.

Another moment of inspiration arose just two years ago in Boston, and it immediately followed the Boston Marathon bombings. In that attack and the days following, four people were killed as a result of pressure cooker bombs detonating at the finish line on Boylston Street. The lives of 8-year-old Martin Richard, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, MIT patrol officer Sean Collier and Boston University student Lingzi Lu were all taken far too soon.

Two days later at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins squared off against the Buffalo Sabres in the city’s first major sporting event since Marathon Monday. In the opening ceremonies, a moment of silence was held and a tribute to all of those affected played on the video board. Then, the national anthem began. As vocalist Rene Rancourt sang out the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” all in attendance loudly joined in. By the time “proudly we hailed” came, Rancourt had lifted his microphone to the sky as the entire crowd, and the entire city, sang the national anthem in a moment forever etched in history.

Sports truly never fail to amaze me. Whether it be the story of Pete Frates’ Ice Bucket Challenge to spread awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease or the sound of Patriots owner Robert Kraft stating, “We are all Patriots” after New England’s Super Bowl victory just five months after 9/11, sports are never just about the game.

They are about the story behind the game. They are about the city that each team plays for. They are about how those teams and those sports help pick up a nation after horrors try to bring it down.

In the wake of the attacks on Paris, the human race must band together to help heal the wounds that those bombs and those bullets left. While doctors and modern medicine can help fix the physical injuries, it must be people who mend the internal trauma. Horrible moments like those we witnessed on Friday put into perspective the seemingly insignificant meaning behind sports. While we must realize that competition and games are not as important as many people would have you believe, we can use sports as a way to unify people, as a way to pick them up, dust off their shoulders and tell them that everything is going to be okay.

Frank Deford, a six-time U.S. Sportswriter of the Year, capped off HBO’s documentary “Sport in America: Our Defining Stories,” with a quote that defines the very essence of sports transcending the games.

“It doesn’t stop wars, it doesn’t create fellowship, it doesn’t solve a lot of things. But, it diminishes the problems of the world. And that ain’t bad.”

No, it isn’t Frank. No, it isn’t.

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