Newtown, Boston And The Gift Of Play

Everything I write from here on out will fall offensively short of the standard I wish to achieve. I have experienced tragedy in my life but nothing to the extent of what the families in Newtown, Boston and various other places in our great country are currently going through as a result of violence. A feeling of helplessness rots in my stomach as I see more images, I read more words and I hear more facts that stem from these events.

I’ve sent my prayers to the afflicted towns nearly every day for the past four months. But I’ve also laughed every day, each one tainted with a sense of guilt. In these moments I wonder, as many often do, if sports should take a backseat. I’ve devoted much of my life as have my colleagues here at The Sports Fan Journal to immersing myself completely in the world of athletics. In some ways, sports shield us from the real world for better or worse. Many see us as delusional adults who haven’t yet given up the child’s gift of “play.”

In the lowest moments I feel this, but the joy of competing and engaging in sports always brings me back. I’ve heard before, and I’ve argued myself, that sport is a necessary escape from the doldrums of reality, our soul’s Hawaii. Recently, I’ve revised that opinion. In describing sport as an escape one implies that it is somehow separate from the everyday process we call life. Now I’ve come to believe it is an integral part of living for many of us.

Late in the winter of my senior year of high school, my friend’s grandfather passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. My friend took several days off from school to mourn with his grieving family. The Thursday of that week, I drove over to an outdoor hockey rink, looking to postpone homework a while longer with an afternoon skate. And there was my friend, coasting easily across the ice, puck on his stick, alone.

I asked him how he was doing, and he responded “fine,” kinder than it appears on the written page. It was good to see that a sense of normalcy had been restored to his life. Initially, I saw his solo skate as a distraction from the mass of sadness that must have enveloped his household. Now I’m just realizing that hockey was an important part of the healing process for him. Whatever joy he received from his few strides on the ice could distance himself from loss.

Last night the Boston Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres in the city’s first sporting event since Monday’s marathon bombings. Stop reading now and watch:

This is sport at its best. We try to honor America with every singing of the national anthem, but in truth it’s become more of a pregame routine than a patriotic tribute. The Bruins fans took the anthem back and made it a symbol of not only Boston’s resilience, but the country’s as a whole. Sport provided that outlet.

The two teams closed the night, a 3-2 shootout win for Buffalo, with an emotional salute to the crowd.

The Bruins and Sabres are not alone, of course. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz famously honored fallen Newtown fan Jack Pinto on his shoes and made a visit to the victim’s family soon after the massacre. Several other teams and individuals have reached out similarly to lend support in whatever way they can. The same has been true since the Marathon exploded in terror.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been awarded an opportunity to give back in the best way I know how. A good friend of mine will host a soccer tournament Saturday to benefit the “We Are Newtown Memorial Scholarship,” which seeks to aid Newtown students who are pursuing careers in education. Any money donated to the cause (you can donate at will go a short way in helping the stricken community recover from an unspeakable event. I hope our gift of play goes longer.

Some say that in great tragedies sports matter the least. My friends, the Bruins and their fans, Victor Cruz, and countless others prove that the opposite may be true.

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