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Robison: The unifying effect of sports (April 18)

Matthew Robison | Thursday, April 18, 2013

For the first time since the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a U.S. sporting event was the successful target of a terrorist attack Monday when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

While the results were tragic and the events were unsettling on a national level, we have been reminded of the power of sports in American culture.

As one of the proudest sporting cultures in the world, the U.S. loves to assert its dominance in having the best major leagues in almost every sport, one of the best Olympic squads at both the Summer and Winter Games and hosting the biggest audiences for important events.

But sometimes, those audiences become perfect targets for anti-American sentiments, and indeed those sentiments can manifest themselves in the most destructive of ways.

As a sprawling 26.2 mile race that challenges every facet of the human physique, will and desire to overcome boundaries, the marathon has become a symbol of athletic dominance. While the winners often come from other countries, the vast majority of finishers are American, and almost every spectator is also American.

Because of the near impossibility of securing all 26.2 miles of the race, a marathon seemed like the perfect place to attempt to destroy life and spirit.

But the great thing about sports, both in America and worldwide, is that they unify communities in ways many other events can’t. If you saw the parade after the Saints brought home the Vince Lombardi trophy or the hundreds of thousands who gathered in the streets to watch Spain win the 2010 FIFA World Cup, you know what I’m talking about.

The unintended effect of the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon was an emphatic, positive and unifying reaction by the American public. The American Red Cross received so many requests to donate blood for the victims that it had to turn people down, saying their donation would spoil on the shelves and go unused. College students in Boston held fundraisers and raised over $20,000 in one night for the relief fund. The Yankees, perhaps the team most loathed in Boston, played the Red Sox unofficial anthem, “Sweet Caroline,” in Yankee Stadium to show their support for their rival city.

While an act of terror does indeed try to destroy life, its secondary purpose is to destroy the morale and spirit of the victims. Thankfully, the power of the American spirit, oftentimes embodied in the realm of athletic competition, will not be not be ousted.

The details of the event are still uncertain. We know the attack was with terroristic intent. We know the bombs were fashioned from home appliances and cookware. But right now the information is still as much of a haze as the frenzied moments following the explosions.

There is one thing of which we can be absolutely certain. The American spirit will not be crushed. The spirit of athletic competition, a unifying aspect of our culture, is something that will never die. Instead, we will only be stronger as a country and as a sporting culture.

After the terror attacks of 9/11, people sought hope in the form of the sporting world. The supportive reaction by the United States’ major sporting leagues across the country inspired individuals to rally together.

I strongly believe the fact that the attack was at a marathon will prove just as symbolic. Marathon runners overcome every limitation to cross that finish line. Blisters, cramping, fatigue, sunburn, dehydration. It doesn’t matter, they overcome the challenge.

America will, too.

Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]

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