Has the sports landscape changed since 9/11?
As the United States prepares to remember that tragic day 10 years ago when on a Tuesday morning thousands of people perished during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I’m pondering how the sports landscape has changed during the past decade.
The answer is, not much.
Yes, on the surface there have been changes implemented. Fans entering stadiums now have to submit their belongings to a cursory glance by venue security. Law enforcement take bomb-sniffing dogs around the facility prior to games. And Major League Baseball teams still play “God Bless America” on a regular basis prior to the seventh-inning stretch and the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
But examine sports and its representatives a bit deeper and you’ll conclude that the sporting landscape hasn’t really changed much at all since 9/11.
The influx of patriotism, faith, and unity that swept the US in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11 have slowly faded away for the most part. The truth is, those in sports who were patriotic or religious prior to 9/11 still are. But those who didn’t fit that description prior to 9/11 but joined in during the revival have for the most part since fallen back to their old ways.
The National Football League will kick off its opening Sunday of this season on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And while there’s sure to be plenty of displays of patriotism and faith at stadiums across the country, the athletes, coaches, owners, and the fans really haven’t placed sports in a new perspective.
Three of the “big four” professional sports leagues in the US—basketball, football, and hockey—have all had lockouts since Sept. 11, 2001. The NFL’s recent lockout nearly stretched into the first part of this season. And what do you suppose the owners and players were squabbling over? Money. Billions of it. Money was and continues to be the dominant force in sports.
In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks, sports served as part of the healing process, uniting Americans. Ten years ago fans could be seen hand-in-hand at stadiums celebrating pride in their country. Today, there are incidents of fans brutally attacking other fans at these same stadiums.
It would be foolish to expect that camaraderie on display immediately after 9/11 to be just as prevalent 10 years later. But aside from some tributes this weekend, it’s as if the attitudes have reverted back to pre-9/11 days.
I’ll never forget the first sporting event I attended after 9/11 and the sense of unity that wafted through the air. I was a sports writer for Gold & Black Illustrated, a magazine that covers Purdue University athletics. The Boilermakers’ game scheduled for Sept. 15, 2011, was postponed, so their first contest was the following Saturday against Akron.
Along with the national anthem, a proud tradition at Purdue home football games is the reading of the following tribute to freedom. The crowd typically shouts the final phrase with enthusiasm, but on this particular Saturday, it took on a greater and more powerful meaning.
“I am an American. That’s the way most of us put it, just matter of factly. They are plain words, those four. You could write them on your thumbnail, or sweep them across this clear September sky. But remember too, that they are more than words. They are a way of life. So whenever you speak them, speak them firmly, speak them proudly, speak them gratefully. I am an American!”
It will be nice to witness similar tributes in sports venues across the country this weekend, even though it will only be for a fleeting moment.