By: Azeem Kayum

Professional sporting events provide an opportunity to bring people of different races and cultures together. These events give them a chance to cheer on their home team. It creates an opportunity for people to unite in an arena or stadium and put aside the issues of the world for a few hours. Many debilitating disasters have happened in the past, and sports have helped in the healing process. The first tragedy I have chosen to discuss took place on Sept. 11, 2001.

On that fateful day, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, a third smashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field. In all, there were thousands of fatalities and injuries. The world stopped and was transfixed at what they saw on their television screens. The sports world took a sabbatical. But, the first public gathering since those attacks occurred at the Compaq Center, in Houston Texas, by the WWE.

The company was scheduled to tape an episode of Smackdown on Sept. 11, but obviously, they could not. Instead, Vince McMahon opted to televise the show live on September 13. It was a very powerful and heart rending episode. The matches occurred, but for that night, they chose not to advance any storylines. Some of the wrestlers broke character and talked about what transpired two days earlier, and spectators could see them become teary-eyed. The human aspect of professional wrestling came to the forefront. I am sure it was tough for the WWE to get back to business, but the entire purpose of the show was to bring a sense of normalcy back to America and the rest of the world. Credit must be given to those at the helm of the WWE at the time, for acknowledging the events of Sept. 11, and showing empathy for all.

The city of New York hosted its first Major League Baseball game after the attack. The game was held on September 21, as the New York Mets hosted its division rival, the Atlanta Braves. The game winner was extremely memorable as Mike Piazza belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to the pleasure of the Shea Stadium crowd. During that year, the other New York team – the Yankees, advanced to the World Series, and lost in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks. I am sure New Yorkers were not happy with the end result of the baseball season, but the championship run brought the city together in its time of need.

It would have been tough on the fans and viewers. The memory of the collapsing
towers was ingrained in the minds of all. Fleeing workers from the buildings, all covered with thick layers of dust, ran aimlessly and away from the site. Yet, New Yorkers showed solidarity by gathering together to enjoy an evening out.

Because of the attacks, the NFL season was pushed back a week, and as a result, so was their biggest game. That year, the Superbowl was played on February 3rd 2002, instead of January 27. The game ended in a 20-17 victory for the New England Patriots who upended the heavily favored St. Louis Rams. But, in my opinion, the highlight was the half time show performance by U2. They performed only three songs. During the concert every victim’s name from the attacks was displayed on a screen behind the stage. The band even changed some of their songs lyrics to reflect the tragedies of September 11. It was one of the best halftime concerts ever. It was emotional and meaningful. But U2 would be used by the NFL again, four years later.

In the latter part of the summer of 2005, America went through another ordeal – not because of an attack, but because of a horrific storm. Residents of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were ordered to evacuate their homes because of Hurricane Katrina. While the destruction was devastating to the latter states, Louisiana was hit the hardest. The Superdome, which houses the New Orleans Saints, and had some damage done to it, was used as a shelter. With all the issues Katrina caused, football was secondary. Even though the Saints’ season continued, they were displaced and forced to play “home” games elsewhere. So, for the entire 2005 NFL season, the team essentially played road games every week. They ended the year with a putrid 3-13 record. I am sure their minds were elsewhere that season. But, the team, and most importantly, the city would bounce back the following year. The resilience of the human spirit is amazing, and sports contributed to the coming together of many minds.

New Orleans went through the onerous task of rebuilding. The Superdome was also going through repairs. Because of the determination of the New Orleans residents, workers, and even players from the football team, the city was ready for the 2006 NFL season. The Saints’ first home game was against their division rival, Atlanta Falcons, airing in prime-time, on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. I am sure the 70,000 plus fans in attendance were thrilled to have their team back in familiar territory.

Among the pre-game festivities was a special concert from Green Day and U2. They performed a song called “The Saints are coming”. It was entertaining, and contributed to the healing of many. Then, the game commenced. Within the first two minutes, the Saints scored a touchdown, and the fans were euphoric at the Superdome – it was like they won the Superbowl with that lone score. They defeated the Falcons 23-3, on their way to a 10-6 record. That season for the Saints brought back a bit of regularity for Louisiana. Even if they ended up not having a good season, I am positive that fans in the state would have felt relieved to be a part of something with which they were accustomed. For a few hours, they were able to forget the disasters that confronted them, and enjoy the game.

A dastardly mass shooting occurred at a country music festival, in Las Vegas, on October 1, 2017. As a result of those terrifying fifteen minutes, 58 souls perished, and 851 individuals were injured. So, what became the one thing that could help ease the hurt of those residents? Enter…..the Vegas Golden Knights.

The NHL’s newest franchise commenced play against the Dallas Stars in Dallas, which resulted in the Knights first NHL victory. Their inaugural home game at T-Mobile Arena was played on Oct. 10, against the Arizona Coyotes, which ended in Vegas’ first ever home win. Prior to the game, the team retired the number 58, in honour of those lives lost in the attack. The Vegas Golden Knights won the NHL’s Pacific Division, finished second overall in the Western Conference and had a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, their Cinderella Story ended at the hands of the Washington Capitals in five games. Despite the loss, nobody could have predicted the Knights would have enjoyed that level of success in their inaugural NHL season.

On April 23, 2018, the city of Toronto went through an egregious experience. A young male rented a van and sped through the streets of North York with a purpose – to inflict as much damage as he could. The gruesome attack claimed the lives of ten people and injured sixteen individuals. He was arrested shortly after. So, after that atrocity, how did the city of Toronto move on? While this memory will be indelibly etched in peoples’ minds forever, the sports teams played a big role in bringing out the best in its fans. That week all the Toronto sports teams were in action.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were in the midst of their playoff series with the Boston Bruins. They won Game 6 in Toronto, but subsequently lost a tight and exciting Game 7 thriller in Boston two days later. The loss eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Toronto Raptors were victorious in Games 5 and 6 against the Washington Wizards to advance in the NBA Playoffs. The Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League won three straight games in the opening round of their AHL playoff series to eliminate Utica. Fans watched every game with enthusiasm. The Air Canada Centre, the Rogers Centre and Ricoh Coliseum held moments of silence and ceremonies to honor the victims of the van attack. TorontoStrong became the new slogan for the city. It is a slogan that says that people should always stick together during tough times. It also promotes unity among all.

Along with the tragedies I mentioned, there have unfortunately been others over the past few years: The Boston Marathon bombing, the Humboldt bus crash, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, and the Parkland shooting in Florida are just a few of many. These atrocities have impacted hundreds of people worldwide. When a sporting event occurs after a tragedy, people ban together, to honor their fallen friends. That is a good sign, but after that, things go back to the way they once were. In my opinion, people should always respect each other, and love one another, not only in times of despair, but even when things are great. Reach out and help make a difference.

We should all demonstrate empathy to those affected. Even though we are not directly impacted by these unfortunate events, they do affect us all. We must always show compassion, and dig deep to find ways to help in the healing process. Remember unity is better than divisiveness, and love is better than hatred.

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