Sports, solace and the meaning of Boston

“If we were in Boston, who knows if we’d be playing today? Bruins got cancelled. Celtics got cancelled. It’s a good thing we’re able to get something on TV besides replays and replays of the bombing.”  

– Will Middlebrooks, third baseman, Boston Red Sox

It wasn’t until I found out that Tuesday’s Celtics game had been cancelled as a result of the attacks that what had happened really sunk in.

Maybe that sounds cold or heartless, so let me explain what I mean.

Every time we turn on the evening news or log onto cnn.com, we’re overwhelmed by stories about death, destruction and horror. Whether it’s a drunk driver killing another person on Route 128 or North Korea threatening to wage war on the rest of the world, these stories have to one degree or another made us somewhat numb to the idea of killing.

It’s only natural. If we spent our lives breaking down every time we heard tragic news, we’d spend every waking minute laying in bed, crying and miserable. It’s only when we have a personal stake in the tragedy, or when something is truly shocking even by tragedy’s standards, that we let a story get to us.

People are killed every day. But a major American city is not brought to a standstill every day. A major American city does not see every one of its citizens filled with a collective sense of terror every day.  And a major American city does not have to abandon those events most central to its culture and identity in order to care for its wounded residents and guests every day.

“It’s the most provincial place in the planet. We kicked the British out… that was the classic Boston moment... The best thing about Boston is that we feel like, I still use ‘we’ even though I haven’t lived there for 12 years… it’s the center of the universe, and if you leave? Like I get emails all the time from people, they’re mad that I live in Los Angeles. Why would I leave? ‘You left here? Why would you do that?’ And I actually feel that way half the time too. You’re not supposed to leave Boston. Because it’s the greatest place in the Earth, we have the best teams. That’s the mentality you grew up with. Our teams are the best, our history matters the most, all the most tragic sports events that have ever happened have only happened to us and no other teams, and that’s just the way you think.” - Bill Simmons, Editor-in-Chief, Grantland

To separate sports and the city of Boston is always wrong, but in this case especially so. Out of every city in America, and maybe even the world, Boston most closely identifies with and prides itself on its athletics. Patriots' Day is the most important day in our history, the day that a bunch of Massachusetts militiamen stood its ground against the most powerful military in the world, sparked the American Revolution and in the process changed the whole world forever.  We celebrate this day by watching the Olde Town Team (that’s the Boston Red Sox for you out-of-towners) and by hosting the most prestigious road race in the world, at the same time.

Whoever carried out these attacks knew this. They knew the symbolism of placing bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, right behind the line of flags symbolizing all the nations who had come to join us on our most celebratory day. What they obviously did not know is that the only thing that trumps Bostonians’ love for our hometown teams is the sense of loyalty and brotherhood we feel for each other and anyone else who chooses to adopt our town as home, whether for a lifetime or just for the duration of a marathon.

That loyalty and brotherhood is what out-of-towners don’t get about our love for our teams. It’s not about baseball, basketball, football or hockey. It’s that we’re as tight-knit a community as you can find. It’s that those games are when we come together as a community. It’s that throughout each season, it really is Boston against the world. And the Boston Marathon is the one time each year that we invite the rest of the world to join in on that community.

enhanced-buzz-5703-1366082602-8

The symbolism of the premature closure of the Marathon and the cancellations of the B’s and C’s games is part of what was so upsetting about the attacks. They didn’t just kill three people and hurt many more in a public and meaningful setting; they temporarily disrupted the cultural heartbeat of a whole region. In this sense, the attackers got exactly what they wanted.

What they didn’t want, but what they’re going to get as a response to what they did, is an even stronger and more tight-knit community. They showed that for every evil person who would do us harm, there are thousands of Bostonians willing to step up and help someone in need. Next year, they’re going to get a record turnout at the 2014 Boston Marathon. And this spring, they’ve glued the ultimate symbol of hometown pride to the head of every Bostonian near and far: the Red Sox cap.

Out of every kindhearted reaction from those who weren’t there but wish they were just to have been able to respond first, the most symbolic came from one of the newest members of the Boston community. Danny Amendola, the guy the New England Patriots signed to replace fan favorite Wes Welker, pledged to donate $100 dollars to a Boston Marathon relief fund for every pass he catches this season – and $200 for every one he drops. The potential dollar value may seem impressive to some, but what really blew me away is how quickly the new Patriot realized what he and his team represent to their fans.

Picture 5

Every catch Amendola makes this upcoming season isn’t just $100 for charity – it’s a unifying moment for a fan base and a city that are one in the same. Ask any Bostonian and you’ll get a virtually endless explanation of how the success of Boston’s pro sports teams intertwines with the collective morale of the city. In fact, here’s a pretty great example right here. The one that most sticks out to me is one only members of CSOM’s class of 2013 may recall.

On the first day of our freshman year, before classes had even begun, every CSOM student went on a trip through the city of Boston, during which we met up with Professor Amy LaCombe at the statue of legendary Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach near Fanueil Hall. Professor LaCombe explained to us how Coach Auerbach built the most dominant basketball dynasty of all time by being the first man in a prejudiced league to disregard race and build his teams around players he judged entirely on their talent and character. The very first lesson we learned at Boston College about leadership, teamwork, commitment and risk-taking was based on the career of a basketball coach that the city considered so important that it immortalized him right next to the historic building we call the Cradle of Liberty.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? What does Boston’s infatuation with its pro sports teams have to do with the tragedy that happened at the end of the Marathon? For me it’s this: nothing can undo the death and the pain inflicted. All we can do is move forward stronger than before. And part of the way we do that is by focusing on what bonds us as a community more than anything else: our sports teams.

It’s no coincidence that New York City has been displaying its solidarity with the Red Sox B. It’s no coincidence that the most-read paper in the city of Chicago declared that its residents are all Chicago Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Revolution. And it’s no coincidence that the most iconic image we are left with from Monday is of three members of the Boston Police Department standing over a fallen Marathon runner, the support system that keeps us safe rushing to the aid of what bonds us together.

si-boston-marathon-cover

 

If you're in college right now, you don’t need me to remind you that you’ve grown up in post-9/11 America. An America that in the past 12 months alone has seen unthinkable acts of violence carried out in places once thought untouchable, like a movie theater and an elementary school. No one I know personally was injured as a result of the bombings at the Marathon. Yet as I sat in my bed and watched the news on Monday evening and into Tuesday morning, as a Bostonian I felt more connected and affected than by any of those other previous acts of horror.

Just moments ago, the authorities reportedly arrested a suspect in the bombings [UPDATE: or not]. What I hope is that they catch the right person. What I don’t want is to know who he is. Looking back on 9/11, I wish Osama bin Laden had never become a household name. Names like Welles Crowther should have become known across the world instead. By having no idea who carried out these attacks, we spent Monday and Tuesday (rightfully) focusing on the heroism of Boston's first responders. We as a society need to stop giving mass murderers their fifteen minutes of fame. It won’t end this type of incomprehensible violence, but it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Like I’m sure many other New Englanders did Monday night, I eventually forced myself to turn off the television and tried to sleep, only to wake up to the same inescapable stories and images filling every screen I saw Tuesday morning. Around 7 PM, I turned my television back on, changed the channel from CNN to NESN, and heard Will Middlebrooks deliver the lines I put at the top of this article. Within an hour, the Sox were winning and for the first time since those bombs went off, I felt a little bit better.

The only things that can heal a wound like the one that was just dealt the people of Boston are time, our loved ones, and the bond that ties our community together. For us, that bond is sports. It’s not rational. It’s not explainable. But it’s the best thing we’ve got. And anyone who thinks that will ever change doesn't know Boston.

Featured image courtesy of cbssports.com.

Comments