Every year on September 11th, I can remember 2001 like it was yesterday. I was in college and overheard another student talking about the Pentagon plane crash as I was walking across campus, and a friend filled me in on the World Trade Center minutes later. I remember walking into my 11:00 class, Geography of the United States and Canada, sitting there for two minutes, and then the professor coming in and telling us class was cancelled. We all have those stories.
The camaraderie that came from that awful fall day 12 years ago started moments after those horrific events. I called home, just to talk to my parents and see how they were. Later my father would tell me that he had two messages when he got home from work that day, one from me, one from my brother, and he was happy with the togetherness of our family, even though we were apart. I imagine there were a lot of families like that.
The events of September 11th rippled through the sports community as well. Major League Baseball postponed its games for the remainder of that week. The NFL postponed the following weekend's games, and many other sporting events followed suit. Our cross country team was set to compete in a meet at Penn State that Saturday. It was cancelled and not rescheduled.
There are times when sports becomes more than just a game. You'll never find reality television or real-life drama that's more true than you'll find on and around a playing field, and that certainly was the case in the weeks and months to follow. What I remember the most about September 11th as it relates to sports...the return of games a week later. Century-old rivals joined together to honor what was truly important, teams stormed onto baseball and football fields carrying American Flags and wearing the hats of the NYPD and FDNY. Even two months later when I watched the 2001 World Series from my college apartment, I could feel the emotion at Yankee Stadium.
I remember the slow motion shot of two Cleveland Browns players holding the American Flag and charging onto the field, the roar of the crowds, the tears, the rallies, the unity. We would see a close-up shot of an NFL player known for his ability to hit hard and be tough, tears running down his face as the National Anthem was sung and F-16's flew over the stadium, and we all knew exactly what he was thinking about.
Athletes gave police officers and fire fighters standing ovations all across the country. Fans traded in their usual game-day jersey of their favorite player for t-shirts of law enforcement groups and fire companies. Athletes who were hailed as heroes went out of their way to honor those that exhibited true heroism every single day and put their lives on the line. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was exchanged for "God Bless America." Have we ever been more united than we were after that great tragedy?
I'm certainly not suggesting that sports were the biggest part or had the biggest impact in the days after September 11th... not even close. But sports is a big part of many people's lives, and I think in the days and months after that tragedy, sports helped them heal.
Days like September 11, 2001, should never happen. Events like those make us question certain beliefs, safeties and securities. However, they also teach us lessons and one of them is this... Sports may be just games, but sometimes they represent so much more.
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