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Naylor: Remembering the 2013 Boston Marathon tragedy

Dave Naylor
4/15/2014 9:14:10 AM
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The most challenging days in the world of sports are those where cold, hard reality intrudes on the fantasy world of games and play.

And so it was last Apr. 15 when, while preparing to host the Monday edition of TSN Drive, the mood of that day suddenly turned dark.
 
The Boston Marathon had been bombed. A great number of people had been injured and some had been killed. No one knew who'd done it, what their motive was or what else they might have in mind.

North Americans aren't blind to the possibilities of terrorism, certainly not since Sept. 11, 2001. But the notion of a being maimed or killed by attending a sporting event is about as remote to our sense vulnerability as can be.

That sense may in fact be the very reason the perpetrators chose the marathon, an iconic event, a symbol of spring, and something attended by people from various walks of life which attracts an international field and audience.

Bomb the Boston Marathon and the message is that anything can be a target, or so those behind it surely hoped.

My co-host that day one year ago was Bruce Arthur, with whom I met 30 minutes before air time to discuss that day's show. We instantly agreed it felt wrong to open the program talking sports. Instead we'd talk about what was unfolding in Boston for the first 30 minutes, follow the breaking news and then reassess. When we got to the bottom of the clock in that first hour, neither of us had the stomach to talk sports. It just felt wrong.

And so we stuck to the matters at hand in Boston, believing our listeners understood that sports could wait for at least a day.

Everyone knows what happened next. Boston became city in lock-down, sports events were cancelled, a security guard was killed, and eventually two suspects were captured, one of them dead and the other severely wounded.

And in the days that followed, the question of societal response began to emerge: How would North Americans react, understanding that this type of thing wasn't restricted to marathons and could happen at any sort of large public gathering?  And since the world of sports has more large public gatherings than any other business, how would it affect ballparks, arenas and stadiums? How would this change the experience of attending a sporting event?

There was the predictable response from leagues, with enhanced security measures at most venues which, depending on your point of view, is either a good thing or the further erosion of the carefree lives we used to enjoy.

But any sense that the Boston bombing had somehow altered the experience of attending a sporting event in North America, that people would reconsider gathering in public to cheer on their favourite teams? That proved to be a complete myth.

No, the sports world is pretty much exactly as it was before the Boston bombing.

And that's significant because the most meaningful thing about sports isn't who wins or who loses or who gets paid the most money. It's the manner in which spectator sports are about sharing common experiences with others, producing a sense of oneness that few other things can deliver.

Sport in a vacuum is just an empty spectacle of athletic achievement. But surround it with people who have a common perspective and it takes on its own energy and meaning, becoming as much an expression of community and culture as anything else.

That's what we saw in Boston during the weeks and months that followed the bombing, with the Bruins and then the Red Sox as symbols of the city's communal spirit. Let's be clear: a professional sports team winning in the aftermath of a tragedy doesn't make anything better, doesn't heal the wounded or bring back the dead.

What it does, however, is give people a way to express their resolve and creates a sense of normalcy in what can be very troubling times.

The two men who bombed the marathon sought not just to cause death and destruction but also to affect way people live their lives.

In less than a week, the 2014 Boston Marathon will take place with people from Massachusetts and around the world gathering to participate. Some will be running but many, many more will be lining the streets just to be present.

Not because they've forgotten what occurred one year ago, but because they remember it.




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