The flags are still at half mast. Both suspects in the horrific Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing firefights with police have been either killed or captured. The city that had been held in a state of terror could finally exhale. The victims could be mourned, the first-responders and law enforcement could be celebrated and the citizens of one of America’s most historic cities could finally leave their homes without fear.
Boston isn’t back to normal yet, but it will be. And their healing started with sports.
In the days after an attack like the bombing of the Boston Marathon, all sporting events were cancelled. A city that prides itself in its heritage also is obnoxiously proud of its sports teams. The threat of another attack prompted a Celtics basketball game and a Bruins hockey game to be postponed. These terrorists had taken innocent lives as well as the sense of security and normalcy on which Americans should be able to rely.
Sports can even unite bitter rivals. Last week, the New York Yankees plastered the Boston Red Sox’ logo on their Bronx big screen beside the words “United We Stand” and sang the Sox’ most iconic theme song, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
On Saturday, the Boston Red Sox finally returned to their city. The Red Sox are second-oldest professional sports tradition in Boston, after the Marathon.
The Red Sox won, of course. The team held a pregame ceremony honoring the victims of the attack and the first responders and law enforcement who were involved with the initial bombing and the manhunt that followed, which was accompanied by a speech from longtime Red Sox first baseman, David Ortiz.
“This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say ‘Red Sox,’ it says ‘Boston,’” Ortiz – who is from the Dominican Republic – said before the game. “This is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
Neil Diamond even showed up, unannounced. According to the Boston Globe, Diamond took a 4:30 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Boston on Saturday, contacted the Red Sox ticket office and volunteered to sing “Sweet Caroline” live during its normal seventh inning playing.
Sports in America have always been there as a needed distraction from tragedy: the New Orleans Saints playing for the first time in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, The Mets playing in New York City after 9/11, and the University of Alabama football team after the deadly tornadoes of April 27, 2011.
Sports are trivial. They don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I even had a journalism professor tell me that sports don’t belong on the front page of a newspaper. But no matter how inconsequential sports may seem, they are crucial for many Americans to feel normal again, especially in a sports-crazed city like Boston.
Boston isn’t the first city to rebound from a tragedy and unfortunately it won’t be the last. But what united a city in need of something joyous was its sports teams.