Sometimes sports brings out the worst in us. Players taunt. Parents criticize. Coaches belittle. And at other times it is within the context of sports that a spotlight is shined on the best of the human spirit. There are many things that I love about sports participation and spectating. I am easily entranced by the last second shot, sudden death, or match point. There is an inexplicable infatuation with the striving for the perfect pass, play--the hat trick.
It is a passionate pact between player and spectator. As much as anything else that passion effusing from spectators is what was under attack on April 15th on Boston's Boylston Street. The very nature of the Boston Marathon–-so heavily focused on the rise of perseverance; the goodness of encouragement from family, friend, and stranger; and the sheer will to keep at something--made the violence even that much more sickening.
It was no surprise that our sports teams looked for a way to publicly display their solidarity with the people of Boston and the marathon victims – 617 Boston Strong hung on a t-shirt in the Red Sox dugout (617 is Boston's area code.) We wanted something from them. We expect our teams to be a reflection of ourselves. Cheering for our teams becomes cheering for ourselves. The patriotic and spiritual rituals that have become matter-of-fact elements of the generic sporting event (e.g. national anthem, heaven looking) suddenly become more meaningful gestures to express our humbleness, our unity. Never have I heard a stadium crowd sing the national anthem with such magnitude as the opening Bruins game following the bombing.
Each year I am a spectator in Hopkinton--the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I am in the crowd that sends off the 27,000 runners from the start line with waves and cheers. I am repulsed by what I sent them to. I am heartened, though, that the other human beings 26.2 miles ahead were there to hold them, to comfort and care for passionate spectating victims, to dismiss fear, and to let the best of what we bring through sports shine through.
Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, is a sports enthusiast who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.