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Jacobsen: Sports can send a political message (April 22)

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, April 22, 2013


One of the worst parts of studying history is it forces us to acknowledge that a lot of the wonderful, inspiring stories from our nation’s history never actually happened.

George Washington never cut down that cherry tree, and the Gipper never gave Rockne an inspiring line to use when the breaks were beating the boys. So thank goodness there were nearly 40,000 live witnesses and countless recording devices running when Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz let fly one of the most sublimely appropriate uses of inappropriate language in recent memory.

Although I can’t write what it was he said here (and lord knows everyone reading this has already watched the video), there will never be any doubt he said it. More importantly, there will never be any doubt he meant it, or that it was just what the City of Boston needed to hear after Monday’s bombings and the wild manhunt that followed.

I’ve now watched the slightly-delayed roar of the crowd approximately a dozen times (an unintended consequence of Big Papi’s speech is that the whole country now knows what it sounds like when 36,000 people all wonder “Did he really just say that?” at the same time). And every time I see that clip, I’m left wondering how well-meaning commentators can continue to refer to sporting events as “distractions” and “escapes” from trouble and heartbreak. If that is the case, exactly where were people more mindful of the week’s events?

If fans were hiding from reality in the confines of Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon, aren’t those “Boston Strong” shirts just a fashion statement? Did fans bring posters thanking first responders because they’d gotten sick of the one that read, “GO SOX”? Did the crowd at Wednesday’s Bruins game join Rene Rancourt in singing the national anthem because they thought they sounded better than he did? Did David Ortiz take the mic at Saturday’s pregame ceremony because he’d always wanted to drop an f-bomb in front of thousands and thought this was his chance?

When you call a sporting event a “distraction,” you minimize all the emotion that goes along with it. You discredit all the symbolic gestures made by team members and fans. Personally, I’m not cynical enough to do that.

We might never figure out exactly what political or ideological statement the perpetrators were trying to make when they designed this attack. But on a basic level, all terrorists have the same goal: to make us afraid. To make us hide. In the past week, I’ve heard multiple Notre Dame students say you can’t feel safe anywhere nowadays. Well, that’s the point.

The terrorists might not have had anything against the Red Sox or the Bruins or Celtics. They might not even have had anything against the Boston Marathon in particular. But they did want to change huge civic events from an opportunity for pure, simple fun to a potential threat to all participants. They saw something objectionable in thousands of people gathering to celebrate Patriots’ Day, a holiday that intertwines Boston’s Revolutionary history with its historical marathon. Going to a sporting event isn’t usually much of a political statement – but it is when people take it upon themselves to make the public wonder if they are safe at games. It is when a fan wears a shirt or makes a sign referencing recent events. And it is when the heart and soul of the home team declares, “Nobody gonna dictate our freedom.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]

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