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Joseph: Sports serve as fitting 9/11 tribute (Sept. 12)

Allan Joseph | Monday, September 12, 2011

There’s no denying it. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 dramatically changed the face of American culture —and sports were no exception.

Across the country, professional sports stopped, uncertain if more attacks were to come. That Saturday, college football games across the country were canceled, as fear still ran rampant — gatherings of tens of thousands of fans were no longer expressions of common support for a cause, but rather prime targets for destruction.

These were not just temporary changes, either. The searing memories of 9/11 caused lasting changes that persist to this day. Just as airline security tightened, so did stadium security. Body frisks and bomb-sniffing dogs, once unheard-of at sporting events, are now commonplace.

But security wasn’t the only change.

Across the sports world, tributes to those lost in the attacks cropped up. As America went to war in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, teams, athletes and fans honored American soldiers with flags, posters, flyovers, chants, fireworks and ceremonies.

When the Yankees made it to the 2001 World Series, every sports fan watched as President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch — and many of them cheered for the hated New York team. How could they not, playing so close to Ground Zero and after such a moving rendition of “God Bless America?”

But these days, the tributes have moved from genuine to contrived, from heartfelt gestures to marketing gimmicks. Every Fourth of July, baseball teams around the country take the field in American-flag hats that serve just as much to pad owners’ coffers as they do to pay respect. “God Bless America” has become so commonplace that fans are willing to go to the concession stand instead of stand and sing — much like they used to for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Even the “U-S-A!” chant has started to feel hollow.

You might think this is a problem.

It’s not.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, it became clear what al-Qaeda’s goal was. It was not to kill every American citizen. Rather, these terrorists truly desired terror. What they wanted, more than anything, was to disrupt the American way of life. Their ideal world was one where every American worried about his or her safety every time he or she left home.

In that world, American culture disappears. Fathers stop taking their families to baseball games. Mothers stop buying their children tickets to football games. Sports fall out of American culture.

They have not.

Rather than see al-Qaeda accomplish its goal, Americans have largely returned to normalcy. Some things will never be the same, but many things are returning to where they used to be. Americans fill arenas and stadiums across the United States. Record crowds gather in expanded facilities. Owners have gone back to the quintessential American pastime of pursuing larger profits.

This is the best tribute we can pay to those who perished in the attacks 10 years ago.

A decade ago, this nation faced a choice. It could change the way it lived. It could allow the terrorists to accomplish their goal. Or, it could forge ahead, newly resolved instead of weakened. It could secure its way of life and refuse to allow the forces of evil to dictate how its citizens lived their lives.

So while America has changed, many things about sports are back to they way they once were. The Yankees are once again the Evil Empire, owners are making money and fans are chanting things for the sake of chanting them.

The American Way has won.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.