My son is a very proud graduate of Virginia Tech. He’s also an Atlanta Braves fan because he grew up in Richmond where the Braves‘ Triple-A team played at the time. Ryan Zimmerman, who plays for the Nationals and went to the University of Virginia, therefore isn’t one of his favorite athletes.
Nothing personal. The two ended up in the same deli line at a local grocery store one offseason and shared some brief small talk. It’s a sports fan thing.
My son’s outlook changed more than a bit in 2007 when, a day after the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, he saw Zimmerman and teammates wearing Virginia Tech hats in a game against the Braves. “I have to admit,” my son said at the time, “it looked pretty good on him.”
Sports rivalries, and the sports themselves, become pretty trivial in the face of tragic events like Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 and the Navy Yard shootings on Sept. 16, 2013.
As should happen, they’re generally postponed. Virginia Tech cancelled its spring game, which was set for the following Saturday. The Nationals postponed their game Monday night. One of the blemishes in the National Football League’s rich history is that it did not postpone games scheduled the Sunday after John K. Kennedy’s assasination in 1963.
It is a matter of common sense, a matter of respect. Sports are not important in those moments.
Sports are important in the aftermath. Think back to New York after 9/11 and how much it meant for the Yankees and Mets to begin playing again. Think back just a few months ago to Boston and David Ortiz’s speech after the marathon bombing that included a profanity that, at that moment, was understandable and pretty much a perfect fit for the point he was trying to make.
Nothing in the big picture changes because sports start again.
We shouldn’t feel safer because we’re not.
We shouldn’t start thinking, well, that’s the last of these types of things because we all know it isn’t. It will happen again, probably sooner rather than later. We want to think otherwise, of course. We all know better. The only questions are when, where and just how bad will it be?
Even as we may become more disillusioned with each of these seemingly unpreventable mass shootings, we can’t let them stop us from living. We work, we eat, we shop, we love, we laugh (eventually), we go about our business as best we can. We cheer for our teams, we root against the other teams. we go to sleep, we wake up and do it all over again.
The Nats and Braves gathered at Nats Park on Tuesday to play two, mere blocks away from where Monday’s awful event took place. Postponing on Monday was prudent, as was playing again on Tuesday.
It was time to try and move forward and baseball plays a role in that.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson addressed that topic in his session with reporters before Tuesday’s first game. Baseball and other sports bear a responsibility to help things get back to normal, as much as is possible anyway.
“Yeah, no doubt. I really feel that way,” Johnson said. “I think sports gets you to quit thinking about your problems and the problems in the world. See some highly talented young athletes compete. It keeps us sane.”
Sage that he is, Johnson is correct. That’s pretty much the role of sports when things are hunky-dory and it is perhaps more important when things are not.
It is the message Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon delivered in 2007, when the Hokies started their first season after the shootings on campus, and Ortiz so marvelously delivered his variation in Boston in April.
Sports can’t fix anything. They won’t bring back those we’ve lost. They won’t keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. It would be marvelous if they could prevent another tragedy. They can’t.
But sports can help us feel better. The results may be trivial in the grand scheme, but the games are not. And there’s nothing wrong with that.