2013-04-25 / Other News

Healing Beantown In The Wake Of The Marathon Bombings

By Sam Akhtar

Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox StadiumFenway Park, Boston Red Sox StadiumMarathon runners are a special breed – part warrior, part insane, part head in the clouds. They tend to be captivated by the idea of pushing themselves while testing their mental resolve and busting through that proverbial wall despite the physical pain. At least that’s how I look at it; that’s how I saw it on that fateful Thanksgiving Day when I decided I would run in the 2012 New York City Marathon (however, Superstorm Sandy changed all of that). Competition and sports in general have always served some role in my life - whether it was just for the sake of competing, motivation to prove something, or as a way to momentarily withdraw from the events of real life.

Sports have a profound role on the human psyche. It is even part of the healing process from tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings that took place on April 15th. While it was Tax Day for America, it was also Patriots’ Day in Boston. With many businesses closed and the town in a celebration, the joyous mood shattered when the first bomb went off at 2:50 p.m. Seconds later, another bomb went off and at once, the news and uncertainty spread. As the investigation continued in the days after, the first sporting event took place when the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League took the ice against the Buffalo Sabres.

While terrorists slapped them with a cold dose of sadness, fans attending the Bruins game spontaneously joined in the singing of the national anthem. Even though I am not an active hockey fan per se, I had chills running up and down my spine when I heard that moment. That brief audio clip demonstrated a powerful reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit and its vast capacity to heal. The emotion in that arena was palpable. It grabbed you. It certainly got me.

During the baseball pregame ceremony, the Boston Red Sox’s most recognizable player, David “Big Papi” Ortiz, emphatically declared, “This is our f——- city. And no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” You could sense the emotion of the crowd at Fenway. While newscasts couldn’t air the footage because of a curse word, the video went viral because the message flexed people’s biggest muscle – their heart. Despite the overwhelming sadness and shock of the Marathon bombings, Ortiz’s 16 words summed up what people everywhere – not just the Boston STRONG - were feeling.

As the nation watched a city being locked down while the manhunt unfolded like a bad action movie, the thoughts and prayers of people were with the victims of the bombings:

Of eight-year-old Martin Richard cheering on his father who was running the Marathon, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell watching as she had done for years just weeks away from her wedding, 23-year-old Chinese grad student Lu Lingzi enjoying the festivities, and the 26-year-old police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sean Collier, doing his duty and giving his life. And the countless others who were injured by the blasts and shrapnel who will have long roads of recovery- both physical and mental.

Here, in New York, we could empathize with the emotions of our adopted brothers and sisters having ourselves suffered through the tragic events of September 11th.. That time, an entire country joined New Yorkers in their pain just as people grieve for Bostonians.

About seven weeks after 9/11, the New York Yankees were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series and while the Yankees would go on to lose, that series did a lot towards letting people know it was okay to experience life again even after suffering such a devastating attack.

The playing of a game will never undo the pain and loss of the victims and their families. However, sports has an undeniable rehabilitative quality serving as a fleeting distraction. Sometimes games can be hyped up in life and death terms such as “win or die” but in the grand scheme offer themselves as they were intended – events bringing people together.

Ordinarily, sporting events pit fans against one another. But in the aftermath of tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings, they have fostered a sense of community. And just as divisive as sports rivalries can get (i.e. The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox), sports can also unite even the fiercest opponents. The New York Yankees paid tribute to the victims of the bombings by playing “Sweet Caroline”; an eighth inning staple of the Red Sox nation for over a decade. (Neil Diamond himself led the Fenway faithful in a rousing rendition a few days after.)

Psychological studies have shown people can become emotionally vested in the failures and successes of their favorite sports franchises. People see their teams as extensions of themselves and it is evident even in the way fans speak: “We are going to win the championship this season” or “We didn’t play well last night.” Fans become part of the team; they wholeheartedly identify with them. Fans can revel in the euphoria of a team’s victory, wallow in their defeat, or seek comfort in times of great sorrow.

And it isn’t just an American phenomenon. Just this past weekend, the London Marathon took place and, even amid the heightened security, runners from around the globe were adamant to show their support. Here in New York, the Road Runners held a previously scheduled race in Central Park with many participants sporting black ribbons and Boston race bibs to let everyone know the pain was shared by all.

Sports serve as a boost for the morale of a city, a people, and sometimes healing a nation. It is a way for people to temporarily forget or deflect the hardships they are experiencing while they dive headfirst into rooting for their hometown team.

This temporary distortion of reality allows us – all of us – to suspend ourselves from the horror and brings us one step closer to moving forward.

Return to top

Copyright© 2000 - 2017
Canarsie Courier Publications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Click here for digital edition
2013-04-25 digital edition