Prior to the year 2001, September 11th was merely another day on the calendar. It was no different than June 11th, July 11th, or August 11th. But in 2001, September 11th became one of those “Days That Will Live in Infamy” when the terrorist attacks occurred in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Now, September 11th is now as historic a date in American history as July 4th (Independence Day) or December 7th (Pearl Harbor).
Every aspect of American culture was affected. Schools closed. Places of work shut down. Stock markets were no longer in business.
Sporting events were cancelled.
When examining how sports was impacted by the September 11th, 2001 attacks, one must think about the unifying impact of sports as a whole. Sports is an important aspect of American culture and sometimes it may be too important. But, time and time again, it has served as a source of pride and meaning for a people in mourning after a tragedy. That tragedy could be a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or a deliberate attack such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon Bombing this year.
When the Mets returned to Shea Stadium shortly after 9/11, they honored the memory of those that died on that day as well as the exemplary work of the numerous first responders that rushed to Lower Manhattan with full knowledge that they had never experienced anything more dangerous in their lives on that day.
Late in the game with the Mets 2-1 to the Braves, Mike Piazza hit a 2-run home run to put New York ahead 3-2. What was more memorable than the home run were the television images of the joyful smiles on the faces of the FDNY and NYPD in attendance at Shea Stadium. Of course, no sporting event can undo a tragedy, but it definitely can, in times of tragedy, provide temporary comfort after experiencing a tragedy.
This was followed up with the Yankees’ through the playoffs that year. In 2001, the Yankees played in their 4th consecutive World Series. Normally, baseball fans are quick to cheer against the Yanks when they’re in contention for another championship. If anything, it can be argued that most people around the country were rooting for the Yankees to win the Series in 2001 because they were cheering for New York City. Also, it would be fitting that in a year where the United States of America experienced one of its most tragic of days, that a team called the “Yankees” would win one of America’s biggest sporting championships.
The Yankees, of course, lost the Series in 7 games to the Arizona Diamondbacks after Mariano Rivera was one out shy in Game 7 from closing the deal for the Pinstripes.
The remembrances in sports of 9/11 continued into 2002. The NFL moved back the regular season schedule a week, which meant that the Super Bowl would be played in February. Super Bowl XXXVI between the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots featured a litany of American-themed pregame ceremonies, including the reading of the Declaration of Independence by NFL players.
The halftime show that year was performed by U2, during which, the names of many of those lost in the attacks were projected on a screen behind the band as they performed.
Shortly after the Super Bowl came the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. In NBC’s pre-Opening Ceremonies promo for Salt Lake’s Olympics, there were images of both Downtown Salt Lake City and the surrounding mountain regions—common protocol for any network hyping up a Winter Olympics. But, images of New York City were also seen and interspersed with the SLC images. One of the flags that was recovered from “Ground Zero” in Lower Manhattan was carried into Rice-Eccles Stadium by firefighters, police officers, and American athletes.
The September 11th attacks’ impact on the Olympics didn’t merely end at SLC 2002. It was seen as an influential cog in New York City’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Hosting the Games would be perceived as a showcase of the resolve of both New York City and the United States as they continued to recover from the attacks.
New York, of course, lost its bid to host the 2012 Games that were awarded to London.
Of course, one cannot mention the impact September 11th had on the sports world without talking about the increased security measures taken to keep spectators and fans safe at sporting events. Major sports events such as the Super Bowl are now designated by the Department of Homeland Security as National Special Security Events. This means that the federal government uses more resources at its disposal to ensure that spectators are well protected. Salt Lake City 2002 was also given NSSE status.
Security measures continue up to this day. Just prior to this year, the NFL released its list of items that would be considered impermissible into its stadia this year. Said list included large handbags and/or purses. The decision was met with outrage in 2013, but likely would have encountered almost no resistance immediately after September 11th, 2001.
When we think about the impact of 9/11 on sports, the security measures are one thing to be discussed. It has been 12 years since the attacks occurred and one can say that feelings in terms of security at stadia, ballparks, and arenas are returning to pre-9/11 levels. They may never totally return to that level, but they seem to be returning there.
But, sports are a central part of American culture. American sports teams and leagues do an exemplary job of offering special deals to our men and women in the Armed Forces. They do a great job in planning tributes such as those on September 11th honoring those that we lost.
And, if it’s one thing sports can do better than most other aspects of our culture, it is unite a city, a region, and a country hurting from a tragedy.
It’s one of the many reasons we love sports. It’s one of the reasons why we are fans.
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