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LANCASTER: Sports nightmare meets reality with Boston Marathon attack

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Of course I've thought about it. You probably have, too.

Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. A World Series game in Philadelphia.

At some point, sitting in stadiums for those high-profile sporting events and many others over the years, the worst-case scenario crossed my mind.

How could it not?

Big events are, by their very nature, big targets. Especially when schedules and venues are set months or years in advance. It doesn't take a security expert to grasp that all it takes is one psychopath to bring about the unthinkable.

Monday afternoon, it happened.

The twin explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, resulting in at least two deaths and dozens of injuries, represented the first attack of this magnitude on a sporting event in our country.

That distinction in itself is somewhat remarkable, and a testament to law enforcement, venue, and team officials charged with keeping us safe at hundreds of events each year.

But the sight of those unspoken fears actually realized, as conveyed through shaky videos and gruesome photos posted to Twitter of amputees and blood-spattered sidewalks — I don't know that it will ever be the same.

We've said that before, of course. After Oklahoma City, 9/11, Virginia Tech, Newtown. Each of those tragedies saw safe havens desecrated, and there's no calculating the impact they have had on our society and the way we've gone about our lives in the aftermath.

But until now, sports had been unscathed. Not that we haven't been looking over our shoulders.

That was the case before 9/11, even, dating back at least to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, the closest touchstone to what happened Monday on Boylston Street.

The pipe bombs planted that July night in Atlanta by Eric Rudolph killed two people and injured 111, casualty figures similar to those emerging from Boston on Monday. The tragedy cast a pall over the rest of the Atlanta Games and ensured that security issues would be part of the public discourse at every major sporting event to follow.

That sensitivity was ratcheted up in the fall of 2001, with fans gradually becoming accustomed to bag searches and magnetometer walk-throughs whenever they went to a game. You'd hear complaints occasionally — security lines keeping fans from making it to their seats by the start of the game, that kind of thing. But for the most part, the sporting world seemed to take pretty well to the new reality. Perhaps because it could visualize the alternative.

Now that we've actually seen it, the notion that we should do whatever it takes to secure major events has been hammered home.

An event like the Boston Marathon is a vastly different security situation than a game at FedEx Field, Nationals Park or Verizon Center. So open, so accessible.

But you can bet security officials from all the sports leagues with more controllable venues are once again turning over every possible disaster in their heads as they prepare for the next time the turnstiles open. And you can only imagine the meetings the organizers of the London Marathon, set for this Sunday, must be having right now.

Obviously there's only so much that can be done to ensure safety. We know the professionals will do everything they can fathom to keep all of us safe, but who wouldn't think twice about bringing his family out to the ballpark in the immediate aftermath of something like this?

As was the case when we began boarding planes again after 9/11, though, we'll just have to have faith and walk back through those Nats Park turnstiles, cheer on those Marine Corps Marathon runners along the Mall, join the party in the infield at Pimlico.

But we'll be a bit more wary, perhaps not quite as carefree, weighted with the knowledge that added vigilance is now required in still one more arena of our lives.

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