Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion and Public Safety

BENNER: Reflection, but no solutions, after yet another tragedy

April 20, 2013

The flight attendant on our plane leaving Indianapolis International was just moments from telling us to turn off our cell phones when someone, somewhere on Twitter—the Breaking News source of our time—let it be known there had been explosions and injuries near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I powered down, learning nothing more until our flight arrived in Denver slightly more than two hours later. By then, my cell phone was full of messages about the tragedy, and as we disembarked, passengers in the boarding area were transfixed by the images of carnage and chaos from one of the news networks.

The purpose of our journey to Denver was to greet our newborn granddaughter. As any grandparent will tell you, few things can match the feeling of holding that tiny miracle in your arms for the first time.

Yet as I cradled Emma Kate, I couldn’t help but wonder—again—just what kind of world we had welcomed her into.

We lurch, it seems, from tragedy to tragedy, all of which defy sense and rational explanation. Be it people going to work on a beautiful late summer morning in a New York skyscraper, or federal office workers at Oklahoma City, or college students headed to class in Virginia, or movie-goers in Colorado, or 6- and 7-year-olds in a Connecticut elementary, it seems all that separates you—or someday, Emma Kate—from tragedy is simply the good fortune of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I tell my family often that we are all just tiptoeing through the minefield of life, and I say that not to make light of those in war zones who actually have to tiptoe through minefields or hope the vehicle in which they’re riding does not trigger an IED.

I also say that not to frighten my family members as they go about their lives, but to remind them how precious life is.

Precious, too, are our American freedoms, and with each of these tragedies, those freedoms erode. We remove our shoes and belts and allow our bodies to be scanned at airports. Debate rages in Congress and across the states with regard to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Farmers can no longer purchase fertilizer in the manner they once did, lest it become part of some concoction that can level a building.

Life’s Toy Department, the world of sports, is hardly immune. As we enter stadiums and arenas, we remove our hats, empty our pockets and submit to searches with scanners. The more high-profile the sporting event, the more intense the security.

In just a few weeks, we will welcome the return of the Indianapolis 500 and the 500 Festival and all its accompanying events—in particular, the Mini-Marathon and the parade. As with the Boston Marathon, the Mini and the parade will draw thousands of participants and spectators to areas that will be impossible to secure from a kook or terrorist.

As for the race itself, how to provide absolute protection to a venue that will have close to 300,000 people on its grounds, including many who will enter the gates via automobiles? How do you guarantee absolute safety at 16th and Georgetown?

Just as Patriots Day and the marathon mean so much to Bostonians and all of Massachusetts, so does race weekend to Hoosiers … or Derby weekend to Kentuckians, or Mardi Gras to Louisianans, or the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade to Southern Californians. Indeed, you can pick virtually any city, and each has its annual day, or weekend, or festival that serves as an identifying time for the region at large.

By the sheer nature of those gatherings, none can be made totally safe. As much as we would like it not to be true, the best we can do is to limit the opportunities of the evil or demented mind. But we can never be totally secure.

So I look at Emma Kate, four days into life in this world, knowing that neither I nor her parents can promise her a life unscathed. Indeed, that movie theater in Aurora, Colo., is but a few minutes from her home.

She is so innocent, but that is not the world in which she will grow up. May God have mercy on her. And may He have mercy on us all.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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