Sports help communities heal after tragedy


One of the best things about sports in this country is how much it unifies its fans, whether it’s local communities, metropolitan areas or even entire nations. This fact has always been particularly apparent in the wake of national tragedies, with 9/11 being no exception.

Immediately after 9/11, fans in the Kansas City area played a unique role. In the first week of NFL games after the national tragedy, the Kansas City Chiefs played host to the New York Giants, one of two New York City based teams, on Sept. 23, 2001. During the national anthem, fans at Arrowhead Stadium made a strong yet silent statement of patriotism and respect.

Traditionally, fans at Arrowhead sing “Chiefs” in unison at the end of the national anthem, replacing the word “brave.” But prior to that game against the Giants, nobody in the stands sang “Chiefs,” in a sign of respect for those lost on 9/11.

Seeing fans come together in the face of national tragedy can often help those communities affected to experience at least some sense of normalcy.

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year, the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League hosted a game in Boston, the city’s first professional sporting event since the tragedy. A video of the entire crowd loudly singing the national anthem went viral and gave not just Bostonians, but the country as a whole hope that the nation would quickly and effectively recover from the attacks.

Then, just a few days later and one day after the manhunt in Watertown, Mass. that lead to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Red Sox played the Kansas City Royals, yet another Kansas City pro team that has a connection to helping a nation heal, in the team’s first game at Fenway Park.

Before the start of the game, there were pregame ceremonies honoring the first responders in Boston. David Ortiz, a Red Sox legend, also gave a speech to the fans in which he emphatically declared, “This is our f***ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom.”

The coup de grace of that Red Sox game, though, came when Neil Diamond performed “Sweet Caroline,” a song traditionally played at Fenway Park, live for the fans in attendance.

In another show of unity across Major League Baseball during the time following the Boston bombings, Major League ballparks across the country, including Yankee Stadium, played “Sweet Caroline” as a show of support.

Fans in New York certainly know what baseball can do for a city that has been paralyzed by attacks. Shortly after 9/11, then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said in a story published by that it was the Yankees who helped the city start to move on.

“They were all clapping. They were clapping for baseball,” Giuliani said. “These were all sports fans. It really got their minds off of, ‘Are we going to be attacked again? Are we going to come out of this?’ It gave them a sense that life goes on.”

Not only did baseball help the country start to move past 9/11, but it was also fans at a Philadelphia Phillies game who celebrated the death of the man behind the attacks.

On May 1, 2011 as the Phillies were playing the New York Mets, both teams that come from areas directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, word spread through the crowd that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Fans went on to chant “U-S-A, U-S-A,” with the players of both teams left to wonder what had spurred on the cheers as they had not yet heard the news.

Overall, sports help communities start to rebuild. And that’s what’s truly great about sports. There’s plenty of negatives that get probably too much attention. But nothing else on this planet can unify a community the way a sport can. That was proven especially true after 9/11.

So as you reflect on where you were that fateful Tuesday morning, sports fans can enjoy the fact that what they love the most plays a huge role in helping the country heal from tragedy.