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The Role of Sport in Times of National Tragedy

The Role of Sport in Times of National Tragedy

One of the recurring themes in coverage of the events in Boston over the last week is the impact sports teams have had in galvanizing and healing a city torn by tragedy.  Indeed, one cannot watch coverage for any length of time without noticing logos of the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics and others.  Even when logos are not used, the iconic font of the Red Sox “B” can be seen on posters and placards representing the historic city.  Some of the most moving post-attack moments include coverage of the National Anthem sung by thousands of fans at the Bruins hockey game on April 17 and viewed by more than 2 million people on YouTube (see clip below).  As those around the country try to find ways to stand with Boston in the face of terrorism, one of the most natural public avenues by which to express their support is through sport, as demonstrated by the New York Yankees tribute to Boston and Red Sox tradition by playing the Neil Diamond hit “Sweet Caroline” in their game with Arizona last Tuesday.

Why does something as seemingly meaningless as sport entertainment play such a prominent role in our national healing process?  It is because sports teams are unique in their ability to offer common identity to the people they represent.  What other human endeavor offers such a potent combination of pride, identity, and support for a city?  It is why college athletic programs are often referred to as the “front porch” of the institution even though colleges by definition are dedicated to the education of students.  It is difficult to point to another representative organization of people that so naturally and completely attracts the emotional and financial investment of so many.

It has been refreshing to once again see the best of what the role of sport in our lives has to offer over the last week.  It seems of late that sport has become devoid of character and meaning in the 21st century.  It is grand entertainment at best and at worst it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise full of cheating scandals, doping allegations, and players-of-fortune following paths of self-promotion at all costs.  However, in moments like these we see sports for what they can be – powerful representations of community identity and human relationships through common interests.  They can be grand celebrations of talent and character – and not just of the players on the field.  They also represent the character of those in the stands.  The fans.  The people who wear the jerseys and buy the tickets.  The people who chose to pack a public sports venue like Fenway Park five days after another public sports venue was blown up just miles away.  The people who wave American flags and join in – even drown out – the performance of the National Anthem in a groundswell of national and civic pride.  The people desperate for a way to show that they will not be cowed by cowardly acts of violence nor will their lives and futures be determined by a deranged few.

It hasn’t been easy to be proud to work in athletics over the last several months.  The sport culture has been getting things wrong lately.  A lot.  However, in this last week when Boston and all of America needed it most it has been nice to see us get it right.

Written by Josh Dunwoody

Josh is the Director of Athletics at Crown College where he is currently managing a $2.5M outdoor stadium renovation. He holds an M.A. in Organizational Leadership and is pursuing further leadership development in Officer Candidate School with the Army National Guard.