Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 19, 2013

Boston finding strength through sports

By BRADEN LAYER
Daily News

---- — In the aftermath of the horrific and cowardly acts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, millions of Americans were left in complete and utter devastation. How could this happen, at such a tradition-rich and joyous occasion? Why did this happen, in such an iconic town, known for its resolve? Who could have done this, scarring a day of celebration that so many held near and dear to their heart?

One thing remained clear amidst the billowing smoke and shards of broken glass; we will stand our ground, together, and overcome.

Watching first responders immediately run toward the explosion, seeing police officers spring into action at the sound of danger and hearing accounts of marathon runners jogging right past the finish line to the hospital to give blood are all pristine examples of the fight of this country.

So what role do sports play in this recovery? A much larger role than you might think.

Sports are an intrinsic part of this nation, built into the fabric of our everyday society. There are few other aspects of our culture that can effectively blur class lines, biases and stark differences of opinion.

During times of tragedy, we need something to come together around, an experience through which we, as a nation, can bond as one and rally for those that are hurting.

Look no further than the hockey rink or the hardwood, as diehard fans and major sports franchises in the Northeast and all across the country have recently decided to ignore what the words say on the front of the jersey and honor the flag that adorns it.

In the hours that passed after the explosions, the Boston Bruins chose to postpone their game Monday with the Ottawa Senators, and the Boston Celtics canceled their matchup the following night against the Indiana Pacers.

Both were tremendous acts of sincerity, acknowledging the pain and suffering the city was going through. Both offered the victims some solace, knowing that two of the most powerful organizations in their respective sports shut down operations in such a serious time.

At other major sporting events, crowds engaged in respective moments of silence, while the New York Yankees showed no rivalry is above the American spirit. Sworn enemies in one of the most bitter rivalries in all of sports, the pinstripes chose to show their support for Boston’s embattled residents by singing ‘Sweet Caroline,” a Fenway favorite, after the third inning of Tuesday’s contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Once again, in the wake of pure devastation, sports provided a common denominator. These two fan bases, whose allegiances ruin friendships and divide families, ignored petty differences on the diamond for a beautiful act of sportsmanship and compassion. For a city that was desperately seeking some glimmer of sunlight, the wide world of sports offered a hand.

The gracious act of the Yankees was reason enough to write this article, to celebrate the pure power of sports to unite a country no matter who you may be cheering for that evening.

Yet until Wednesday, there had not been a professional sporting event in Boston. There had been countless gestures of compassion by other teams, but Boston, who has decided to rally its citizens with the mantra ‘Boston Strong,’ had not displayed its power in full force.

In one rendition of the national anthem at the TD Garden before Wednesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Boston showed the nation it still had plenty of fight.

After about the first two lines of the anthem, singer Rene Rancourt lowered his microphone, and the home crowd took over. In what was probably the most chilling, gut-wrenching national anthem this writer has ever heard, Bruins fans stood and sang every word, each one louder than the one before.

By the end of anthem, a sold-out crowd stood as a beacon for the entire city. Boston wouldn’t go quietly into the night, they truly were ‘Boston Strong.’

Perhaps nothing else but sports could have offered a venue through which the city could rally. Only at that arena, on a national stage, could sports serve as the catalyst for a much bigger message.

There will forever be a stain on the Boston Marathon, a hallowed sporting event that has now been tarnished due to extreme cowardice and misguided violence.

But sports are also proving to be a rallying point, a place for a damaged city to respond and reply with a powerful message. Only through sports could Boston immediately show the nation, and the world, that it won’t be defined by the acts at Monday’s finish line.

An entirely new race has just begun, and Boston is the clear favorite.

Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at braden.layer@effinghamdailynews.com