Why sports can help heal us in times of crisis
As random violence made us feel unsafe in our city, games and athletes have helped salve the pain and knit us together.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Cruise missiles were pointed at the United States from Cuba's northern shore. Soviet ships were heading toward U.S. ships that had set up a defensive quarantine in the waters around the island nation.
President John Kennedy addressed the nation and told us of the presence of offensive missile sites in Cuba. Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev called the quarantine a serious threat to peace.
Doomsday scenarios filled the evening news and the daily newspapers. People stocked the shelves of their bomb shelters. It was late October 1962 and the world seemed to be moving dangerously close to nuclear war. I was truly scared.
So what did my father do to allay those fears? He took me to a Philadelphia Eagles game. That Sunday, at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we gathered with 60,000 football fans to forget for a few hours and do what we always did on the weekends in the fall.
My father knew something that day.
Instead of staying home and feeling isolated, instead of nervously waiting for events to unfold, he knew we had a place we could go that transcended our fears.
Such is the salve of sports. It is the great escape, but just as important, games can give us a community, give us something we can share. Games are the gathering places for people to celebrate their common joy and forget their common concerns.
The teams, their stadiums and arenas, are part of, what I believe, holds communities together.
And I've thought a lot about all of that this week, as Seattle has been sent reeling by random acts of violence that made us feel that our streets and the cafes no longer were safe.I thought about the role of sports Wednesday night, when Sounders fans packed the tiny stadium in Tukwila and cheered and sang and celebrated as their team won its first U.S. Open Cup match.
The scene was reprised the next night when the Sounders Women won their home opener.
Moments like these are the embodiment of sports at its best. These games gave Seattleites a place to go to, to feel the sense of community.
We need to grieve at these times. We need to feel sorrow for the families of the victims. But we also need to celebrate all that is good and rich and beautiful and exciting about our city.
Sports are woven into the fabric of our community. They are part of our glue.
That's especially true when franchises like the Sounders and the Seahawks get it and allow the community to tell them what the product should look like.
Whether it's the 12th Man at Seahawks games or the raucous 38,000 at the Sounders' MLS games, fans feel as if they're part of the product. They have a role with those teams.
Think back to what the New Orleans Saints did for their community after Hurricane Katrina destroyed 70,000 homes. Saints fans took their Super Bowl win, nearly five years after the disaster, personally. It was their Super Bowl trophy.
People took newspaper descriptions of the game to cemeteries to share their excitement with loved ones who had died. The Saints became the focus of the city's revival. On and off the field, quarterback Drew Brees rallied the troops. A bond was forged between the team and its extended city.
And last year, after an E4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Ala., killing 53 people in that city and 253 throughout the state, the University of Alabama football team helped piece together the city's psyche as well as its structures.
Players spent their Saturdays repairing damaged homes. Coach Nick Saban formed an organization, "13 For 30," that pledged to rebuild 13 homes. Players went around town with chain saws and cleared away broken trees and repaired broken dreams.
And then, in January, the Crimson Tide beat Louisiana State and won its 14th national championship. The team brought a sense of renewal to Tuscaloosa, the university's home.
At their best (and believe me, the behavior of sports often isn't at its best) sports can be uplifting and reassuring. When teams have that community base, they can do so much good. They can build relationships. They can greatly enhance cities.
I've seen it on a team-by-team basis, but I've also seen it individually. Gary Payton at Children's Hospital. George Karl with cancer patients. Ken Griffey Jr. with Make-A-Wish recipients.
I'm a sports fan. But I'm also a 30-year resident of this city. And, after a week like all of us have had to endure, I'm glad we have games to attend and players to cheer and stadiums we can go to, so that we don't feel isolated and we don't marinate in our fears.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176