SPORTS: Are security searches all we retained from 9/11?

September 11, 2006

I pulled up the column I wrote five years ago this week. It was published five days after 9/11.

This is how it began:

"When you have a tragedy of such immense proportions as the one visited on America last week, it renders the world of sport to the status of the trivial, the trite, the absolutely, totally inconsequential."

But I also expressed the belief that it would be sport that would aid us in our recovery.

"Yet as meaningless as sport becomes in the scope of unspeakable tragedy, it will be sport that will help us-slowly-bring America back on something resembling an even keel. It will be sport, serving its essential functions of diversion and entertainment, that will help give us the escape that we will so desperately need. It will be sport that will allow us to reconnect with one another, reunite us and give us someone-or something-to root for, and displace, if only for a moment, the loathing and hatred we feel for those cowardly terrorists.

"Peyton Manning and Co. as healers? Well, yes, of sorts. Not in the way of the medical and safety personnel assigned to the grim tasks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Not in the way of the clergy, to whom we turn for guidance and perspective, and ask to provide answers to our troubled questions. Not in the way of a parent, who must sit with a child and try to explain the awful ways evil and hatred manifest themselves.

"But as our numbness wears off, it will be sport that will help us reawaken our senses, and give us some place to go where we can be away from those awful images of airplanes flying into skyscrapers.

"We will, in short order, need to find a sense of normalcy, to know that our country and all its institutions-including sport-have survived. The games we play, and the games we watch, will help us do that."

And so, the games went on, as we knew they would, and as we needed them to. NFL stadia, in particular, became venues for emotional displays of patriotism. We shared our American commonality even as we cheered for, or against, different teams. Fans were nicer to one another. Yes, even Steeler, Raider, Browns and Eagle fans.

A month later, in the Bronx, not far from Ground Zero, the Yankees won the World Series, and that was a huge emotional boost for that city and its scarred populace. It was probably the only two weeks in my life when I didn't root for the Yankees to lose.

As tragic as 9/11 was, it gave us a sense of perspective that was, for a short time, almost refreshing. Bonehead plays, bad calls, poor coaching decisions ... so what? How could you get worked up over any success or failure by a team or athlete. It just didn't seem to matter because, in the big picture, it didn't.

Sure, just as it changed the way we board airplanes, 9/11 changed the way we attend sporting events. Sometimes we are frisked. Carry-in items-from women's purses to beer coolers-are inspected. Spectators must doff their hats, lest they be toting a weapon of mass destruction beneath. In some instances, fans must pass through metal detectors. A discussion of security and terror threats accompanies almost every major sporting event. In the beginning, it seemed so unsettling, a constant reminder that danger lurked. Now it seems a minor inconvenience, part of the routine of attendance.

In a subsequent column, I wrote that I hoped the perspective 9/11 brought to sports would last, even though I knew it wouldn't. It was a naïve thought, anyway. Sports causes irrational responses in otherwise rational people. In time, we were back to our old selves, yearning to stick our fingers in the air and proclaim-via "our" teams-to be No. 1.

And if our teams weren't at the top, we were calling for heads and demanding accountability.

Yes, the world may have been forever altered by the events of five years ago, but sports is back to making us crazy. And that includes good crazy as well as bad crazy.

It's still a place to escape, to bond, to be thrilled, to be disappointed ... sometimes all of the above. Sports remains the best reality show going.

But the reality of sport, and the reality of our world since 9/11, are two very different things. Given that, here's how I closed that subsequent post-9/11 column.

"Here's hoping this perspective so quickly found is not perspective so quickly lost. Here's hoping we don't forget who our heroes really are."

I wonder if we have.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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