- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2001

One striking thing about the current national crisis is how much more unified we are in deciding to bag the fun and games of sports than we were during the one 38 years ago.

Almost unanimously, it seems, the people who run and compete in sports have said they want no part of playing at least through this weekend. Which, of course, is how it should be.

But when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, much of the reaction was different particularly in the South.

Approximately 7? hours after the president was shot, I had to cover a high school football game in Richmond, where I worked for the city's largest newspaper. I had no choice; the game went on as scheduled, and it was my job to report on it.

It was hard to believe then that the game, and many others throughout the South, was not called off. It is impossible to believe it now.

Yet the people in charge of scholastic sports in the old capital of the Confederacy were not alone. Some college football games were played the next day. And while Jack Ruby was shooting accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to death in the basement of a Dallas jail Sunday afternoon, NFL teams were attacking one another as though nothing had happened.

Today that sort of insensitivity would be unthinkable, or at least I hope it would.

In an age when many regard pro athletes as boorish louts interested only in wine, women and the siren song of fat contracts, it was refreshing and reassuring to hear the heartfelt reactions of so many to last week's tragedies. I especially appreciated the comments by Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, who over the years has spent almost as much time doing good works as he has laying low wide receivers.

"Personally, my desire would be to go down and get our hands wet at the Pentagon," Darrell said on Wednesday. "There are people who are hurting out there, and we're a bunch of free bodies. We can go and lend our hearts, lend our hands, lend our prayers."

Right on.

In fairness to the NFL players of 1963, most who were interviewed at the time said they didn't want to play that weekend. Commissioner Pete Rozelle dictated that the games go on, feeling that President Kennedy would have wanted it that way. It was a terrible decision, the worst of Rozelle's 29-year career as czar.

Now, as America learns to live with its anguish and government leaders plan for war against the perpetrators "and those who harbor them," as President Bush put it, the games will resume tomorrow with a limited schedule of major league baseball.

Is it too soon? I don't think so, because we must begin to seek out normalcy somewhere. By now we are all sick of watching the catastrophe unfold on TV. We will continue to grieve for our loved ones and for our country, but it cannot be 24/7 forever. Diversions, whether athletic or otherwise. will become altogether proper.

Still, it's going to be difficult to cheer, to care with the same intensity. The real world has intruded too harshly upon our dreams and rationalizations.

Does it still seem important whether Jeff George or Tony Banks plays quarterback for the Redskins?

Whether Barry Bonds turns Mark McGwire into a latter-day Roger Maris?

Whether the Seattle Mariners break the record of the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most victories in a season?

Whether Thomas Rongen survives as coach of D.C. United?

Whether Cal Ripken ends his career at home or on the road?

Whether Jaromir Jagr turns the Capitals into a bona fide Stanley Cup contender?

And even whether Michael Jordan soars over basketball courts and basketball competition once again?

If you're a sports fan in this area, chances are one or more of these things will remain important to you. It's just that they won't be as important.

Sports holds a definite place in our society and our lives; taking our minds off our troubles for two or three hours is one of its most valuable functions. But the events of the past week should remind us that other concerns, real concerns, take precedence.

I'm glad to see the games starting again. Sports represents escapism for most of us, and we all could benefit from spending a little time in its fantasy world.

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