Most historical events don’t touch the sports world. In fact, sports seems to be what brings everyone back together after heartbreaking events.
Many people remember that first New York Giants game against Kansas City after 9/11 during which Chiefs fans hung “KC loves NY” banners.
Less people know what UVA did for its greatest rival after the Virginia Tech shootings. The Beta Bridge, which is known for being painted multiple times a week, was painted “Hoos for Hokies” after the April 16, 2007 massacre and remained that way for the rest of the school year.
Just two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the NFL played its regular schedule and then-commissioner Pete Rozelle said, “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game. He thrived on competition.”
All of Colorado seemed to stopped when the Columbine shootings happened April 20, 1999, and those lives lost are still remembered by sports teams today as the Colorado Rockies held a moment of silence at Coors Field on the 20-year anniversary.
Just days before the Las Vegas Knights were set to play their first-ever NHL game as a new expansion team, a man opened fire on a music festival outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Vegas, killing 58 and injuring hundreds. Despite being competitors, the Knights players stood in a line mixed with Dallas Stars players for a pregame moment of the silence in the regular-season opener five days later.
When Hurricane Katrina wreaked absolute havoc on New Orleans in August 2005, the Saints were pushed out of their home stadium, the Superdome, for the entire NFL season. The stadium was used to temporarily host victims of the hurricane and teams around the league immediately set to work finding a home for the Saints and rescheduling games.
In the Saints’ first game back in New Orleans in more than 1 ½ years to start the 2006 season, the support from the home crowd was so deafening even Atlanta Falcons players admitted the Saints were shoe-ins for a victory.
“I don’t ever remember a game where it was that loud anywhere,” then-Falcons kicker Morten Andersen told the Associated Press. “There was too much energy for the Saints and the city of New Orleans and we weren’t going to be able to fight that. I don’t say that in a defeatist way, just as a matter of fact.”
Even locally, we’ve seen sports bring people back together. Just last year, Benjamin Russell hosted Beauregard in its first baseball game back following the Lee County tornado in 2019. A sign was made by Alexander City Parks and Recreation Department director Sonny Wilson displaying the Wildcats’ support for Beauregard and the team raised money for a Hornet player directly affected by the storm.
“I know they felt torn,” Beauregard coach Evan Braun said at the time. “A lot of them wanted to be helping (with storm damage) but we felt like we were making a statement that this community is going to persevere; this team is going to persevere. And in a way, we felt like we were reflecting what we were seeing in the community, coming through something tragic and trying to turn it into something positive.”
And sports helped that team find a sense of normalcy again after the terrible disaster.
Through the coronavirus pandemic, even sports have been taken away from us. There’s no universal equalizer for us all, nothing that transcends race, ethnicity, gender or religion, no common denominator that’s seemingly always brought us together.
But soon, the return of sports will happen. As early as Monday, high school teams around the state will take to the fields and the courts to begin their summer workouts and hopefully we’ll start to find that sense of normalcy again.
Although we’re still in the thick of the pandemic, this is certainly a historic, life-changing event. One day we’re going to look back on this and remember that first practice, the first game, the first touchdown after the disaster. Let’s make sure we do it right.