EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2013

Sports unites nation in time of need

Sports can unite people, begin the healing process

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — Yankees fans did their best to belt out “Sweet Caroline.”

A Cleveland Indians fan left a handwritten sign, “From our city to your city,” in the Red Sox dugout.

Runners in London’s marathon Sunday are being urged to cross the finish line with hands over hearts.

Sports fans around the globe have stood with Boston following the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Those tributes led up to last night at TD Garden, where the Bruins played the first major sporting event in Boston since the explosions that killed three and injured more than 170.

Last night was more than just a game, it was the beginning of the healing process for one of the most rabid sports cities in the country.

“One of the things you see after events such as Sept. 11 and Newtown is that sport can be used as a platform that can unite many different types of people,” said Karen Collins, associate professor of sport studies at the University of New Hampshire. “Regardless of race or socio-economic status, sport is something people will relate to.”

The Bruins wore blue-and-gold ribbons on their helmets with the words “Boston Strong” to honor the victims of the bombings. A “Boston Strong” video played on the scoreboard, followed by a moment of silence to honor the victims and the first responders.

The Red Sox played in Cleveland on Tuesday. Every member of the team signed a flag with a “B Strong” logo. The logo has become a popular Facebook and Twitter avatar.

“Sports brings people together,” said Ken Wooley, 43, of Derry, who was shopping at Wal-Mart in Derry. “It takes their minds off what has been going on. This will bring Boston together and bring Massachusetts together, and even bring the entire country together.”

While Boston teams are holding their own tributes, other cities are showing their solidarity.

Rivalries are shelved in favor of athletes and fans standing strong — and united.

In Milwaukee Tuesday, the Brewers played the theme song from “Cheers” and displayed a message on the scoreboard honoring Boston.

“Any time a city is impacted by a tragedy like this, you want them to know that they aren’t on an island,” Brewers’ spokesman Tyler Barnes said. “This is something that hits everyone.”

The Chicago Tribune put Boston front and center on the front of its sport section Tuesday. A full-length black box read “We are Chicago,” followed by the names of each of Boston’s five major professional sports teams.

“It was one of those things, where our inclination was to say, ‘What can we do?’” said Mike Kellams, the Tribune’s associate managing editor. “We wanted to make a statement which tapped into the emotion of the city. Sports is just a part of the culture in Boston and Chicago.”

The tributes have even carried overseas.

At this Sunday’s London Marathon, there will be 30 seconds of silence before each of the three groups of runners departs. A social media campaign is urging runners to finish the race with their hands over their hearts in honor of the Boston victims.

At Yankee Stadium and other stadiums around baseball Tuesday, “Sweet Caroline” was played, as it is at every game at Fenway Park.

And when Boston beat the Indians at Progressive Field Tuesday, “Dirty Water” blared throughout the park, just as it does after Red Sox victories at home.

“Watching it, it was like the archrival has joined forces and can say maybe on the field we are rivals, but we have your back off the field,” said Heather Barber, an associate professor of sport studies at the University of New Hampshire. “Sports has the potential to lift us up when bad things happen.”

It’s happened before.

In the first New England Patriots game after Sept. 11, 2001, Boston fans honored those from the New York Jets.

Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi brought his three brothers, all New York City firefighters. The siblings carried an oversized U.S. flag onto the field at Foxboro Stadium in honor of the victims of the terrorist attack.

“(Owner) Robert Kraft would joke about how, in his memory, it was the only time he could remember Boston fans rooting for New Yorkers,” Patriots’ spokesman Stacey James said yesterday.

It is those memories which often stick in sports fans’ minds following tragic events.

“In 2001, I just remember when the Patriots came back,” said Marc Sapienza, 22, of Derry, who was walking down Crystal Avenue yesterday. “After a tragedy, an arena is the only place where a lot of people can go to really appreciate a city. To hear the roar of the crowd makes you feel like no one can stop us.”

It allows people the opportunity to turn the page and start to move on.

“I think it makes people feel a little more safe and in some ways it brings it back to normalcy,” said Collins, the UNH professor. “There is understanding and heartache, but at the same time, sports can bring you back to a normal behavior on Wednesday night. It helps you forget about tragedy for a short period of time. Everyone can take that thought and focus just for a couple hours on good things.”