Whole Nine Sports

The First World Shutdown and
How Sports Helped Heal The Wound

Mark Heaney
Follow Mark @HeaneyNFLDraft
Follow Whole Nine Sports @WholeNineSports

This is written in remembrance of the 2,977 innocent civilians that lost their lives 20 years ago today, including 2,606 at the World Trade Center, 245 on four airplanes, 125 at the Pentagon, 71 law enforcement officials, 55 military personnel, 1,400 rescue workers that contracted illness from ground zero, and 343 firefighters, including my cousin and hero, Michael V. Kiefer.

March 13th, 2020, the day many consider the last “normal” day before the world essentially shut down. Businesses closed, sporting events canceled, schools dismissed, not to mention a virus rapidly spreading and fear settling into the country. 18 months later we have lost more life than anybody could have imagined and suffered so many more related issues. Countless jobs lost, empty seats at kitchen tables, health care professionals overwhelmed, people struggling with mental health, the world was truly changed by the pandemic. Yet, with all this, it is far from the first time the world has shut down and been permanently changed, the first time was 20 years ago today on September 11th, 2001.

The completely impossible, even more than that, unimaginable actually happening, things becoming weapons that we never could have imagined becoming weapons. A sunny, September morning becoming dark, gloomy, and terrifying. The very minute that airplanes became weapons of mass destruction, the world not only changed but it completely shut down. Nobody knew when, where or what was next, nobody knew if this was going to become normal life, people scared to drive on bridges, tunnels, or even leave the house at all. On top of this, people struggled to enjoy life, people were grieving in numbers we hadn’t seen, it was a permanent feeling of darkness. It was 10 consecutive days of nothing but grief, confusion, and fear. All NFL games were postponed for that week and MLB games were pushed back also, this was not just to honor the memory of those lost, but also in fear of more to come.

This changes on September 21st however, as the New York Mets return to a city in tears and give the country a reason to smile. With FDNY and NYPD hats on, the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 with the help of one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history: superstar Mike Pizza takes a fastball deep over the center-field wall to give the Mets the lead in the bottom of the 8th and the crowd erupts with joy. A tension broke when that ball went over the wall, it showed people that it was okay to celebrate, it was okay to cheer and to enjoy life as we knew it before the attacks. Who could have thought a simple game of baseball could provide such huge relief in the midst of the largest terrorist attack in our country’s history. 

This continued for the months and years that followed as NFL stars ran out of the tunnel with USA flags in hand, fans waving flags from every seat in stadiums, the Super Bowl that following winter where U2 shows every name lost during the halftime show. Time and time again the power and healing that sports can bring is mindblowing. I remember like it was yesterday watching the Kansas City Chiefs play the Houston Texans last year on September 10th, the first game after the start of the pandemic. A weight was lifted that you could physically feel, it felt like we had a chance to bring back life and bring back celebrating with other people and not just virtually.

This seems like it has been a trend since 9/11, the first Red Sox game after the Boston Bombing, the celebration from the crowd during a late-night Mets and Phillies game when news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the entire timeline of the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina. There is just something different about sports that can bring us together like nothing else can, no TV show or movie had the impact that the Mets game 20 years ago had, no concert or broadway show could do it the same way, it was the magic of a New York team and their star player creating a Hollywood script live in action that helped heal the city and country even for just a moment. That is truly all America needed 20 years ago, just some time to breathe, smile, cheer, hug one another and not just in sadness and truly, sports showed its ability then and now to be the thing that can do that for us. It heals wounds, gives us a break from the outside world, and can create lifelong memories even in our most trying of times. 

And so, as we reach the 20-year marker on the most tragic event in our lifetimes, we will turn on the television and watch two New York baseball teams line up against each other with FDNY and NYPD hats and all as they hopefully once again give comfort to those that need it on this somber day. The pain and sadness that comes with today’s date can not and should not ever be erased, there was too much loss that could not be brought back, too much destruction that can not be rebuilt for us to carry on as usual. The hole in the chest that comes with September 11th will remain, just as the Mets and Yankees being an escape from the sadness will, just as college football with friends and family will, and just like an NFL Sunday will. We treasure the fact that we have these things to remind us that it will be okay, no matter the circumstance, no matter the loss, it will be alright. The loss does not go away, neither does the heartache or sadness, the event can not be changed and that is the hardest part about it. No matter what, this is a piece of us.

There are families that live on a day-to-day basis with the same hurt the country felt 20 years ago, we saw one of the largest spikes in PTSD cases ever recorded, we saw a piece of the best city in the world be destroyed and saw lives ruined in the process. It can not be understated the depth of this tragedy and that is why we do what we do every September. We can not let the feeling be erased, the firefighters that climbed 110 flights of stairs with their only goal being saving other people deserve nothing less. The police officers on the ground floor helping people evacuate all while knowing the buildings could collapse at any time, the heroic passengers of flight 93 that literally gave their lives so others would not be hurt, the 5-year old that lost their parent, this is why we do what we do every September and why it is so important that we have something that can somehow help our grief and our heartache, thank goodness that sports have become that for so many of us. 

May we never forget the lives lost and may their memory, sacrifice, and legacy live on for as long as our earth exists. 

Never forget this day.