October 22, 2002

A Horrifying Realization

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A friend of mine lives in Chevy Chase, MD. Chevy Chase is not far from Rockville, the epicenter of the horrific sniper attacks that have occurred in the Beltway throughout this month.

One of the shots fired came just blocks from his high school. And my friend’s high school, like many in the area, has seen its interscholastic sports shut down for three straight weeks now.

High school sports have not been all that has been affected. Youth sports leagues have canceled games. And though they continue on, the big time pro and college sports have seen attendance decrease.

This is not what is supposed to happen.

One year, one month and one week ago, while the whole United States was reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks, sports were a release — especially youth sports and high school sports. I live on Long Island, my house is about 25 miles from Ground Zero as the bird flies. The weekend following the attacks, while baseball and the NFL and college sports sat idle in mourning, it was the high school and youth athletes that provided that release. I am still touched to this day by an article I read a few days following the attacks that described a youth soccer game played on Manhattan’s west side.

It is not my intent to overemphasize the importance of sports, not nearly. But many will agree that when times are tough, sports provide an outlet, an escape from reality, and a window to the hope that someday, normalcy will return.

But in the Beltway, this outlet has been stolen by a heartless, ruthless murderer. Last Sept. 21, 41,235 people filed into Shea Stadium for the first professional sporting event in New York after the attacks. While clearly a baseball game could not heal the still-fresh scars of the most traumatic event in the nation’s history, for one night, if only a few hours, New York got a glimpse and a taste of what normal life was once again. That’s the power that sports have. To not have that escape is terrifying.

Terrible as it is, the powers that be in Maryland and Virginia are absolutely correct to suspend play. That being said, these high school and youth games must resume as soon as possible. These are the things that make a childhood complete. They can be routine and mundane, but isn’t routine and mundane better than deathly horrifying?

Once again, residents of the Beltway are afraid to leave their houses, or go to Home Depot, or send their kids to school, or pump gas. They’re afraid to let their kids play sports. They are afraid to live their lives. Now this may not change until this serial killer is finally brought to justice, but by then he will have already succeeded in his goal to interrupt the way of life.

In a recent column on ESPN.com, Ralph Wiley wrote that maybe there’s something to be said about old adages such as “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only once.” Maybe the residents of the Beltway should not let their lives be interrupted, not let the sniper win. And maybe he’s right.

There is one thing that I know for sure, though. When sports can’t be there to console us in times of trouble, that’s when we know that somehow, we don’t have the control over our world that we think we do.

And that’s a chilling realization.

Archived article by Owen Bochner