Boston Marathon Explosion Is Not a Story About Sports, Until It Is

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterApril 16, 2013

The story of the explosions that rocked downtown Boston near the finish line of the Boston Marathon is not a sports story, so writing about it in a sporting context is incredibly difficult. 

Yes, the explosions that caused more than 170 injuries and at least three deaths occurred during the Boston Marathon. But clearly, even given the context, this is not a story about sports. It's a story about life; about how precious each moment can be.

As a sports writer and a sports fan, an event like this is my worst sports nightmare.

If you've seen the video footage more than once, which anyone watching the news coverage in the wake of the blast undoubtedly saw on a loop for hours, that split second before the explosion feels like slow motion as we witness a regular sporting event—and an annual celebration of athleticism in one of our countries oldest and most revered cities—turn into something so horribly unrecognizable.

We are still just hours removed from what seemed like Boston celebrating a normal Patriots' Day, like so many before. As we learn more information about the bombing, it's unfair and irresponsible to speculate on the motives of those who planned such a heinous act of terror.

Regardless of the reasons behind the attack, this was an act of terror—and one, as a sports fan, I'm surprised hasn't happened more often.

While I understand the political symbolism for a terrorist to attack an institution of government or finance, every time I walk into a major sports venue—that represents recreation, fun, fanfare and a celebration through elite (read: American) athleticism—I've always thought it to be a vulnerable target for terrorists. 

If the goal is to strike the largest number of people, would it not be at a sporting event where tens of thousands of unsuspecting Americans are enjoying their favorite pastime?

Sports are apolitical, asocial and nonpartisan. Sports unify us as a community, and the venue—in Monday's case, a simple city street—should be where we all are able to celebrate together.

If we can't be safe with our spouses and children and friends at our local sporting events, where can we be safe?

Working in sports, and for years working in college athletic facilities that were some of the least secure places I've ever been in, this has been one of my biggest fears for as long as terrorism has been at the front of our nation's consciousness.

The idea of a terrorist attack at a major sporting event has been an issue for years. At just 12 years old, I distinctly remember the beefed-up security for Super Bowl XXV in 1991 during the Gulf War.

It never made sense why someone would attempt to, say, plant a bomb at the Super Bowl with all that security when they could inflict the same amount of damage—and in a way produce more fear—by doing something at a far lower profile sporting event. The lower profile events are when we, as citizens, let our guard down.

The Boston Marathon is hardly low profile, but it's certainly not one of the country's most watched live sporting events. While the race is incredibly well-attended by people in Boston as the marquee event of Patriots' Day in the city, the crowd is stretched across more than 26 miles, making the spectators far less concentrated than at an arena or stadium.

This happened among a few hundred people, just standing on a city street watching friends, family and fellow racers cross the finish line in what, for some, is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

The second we question why it would happen there is the moment we are reminded it could happen at any time, anywhere—and there isn't much we can do about it.

We get lulled into a false sense of safety that our world isn't full of maniacs who will go to great lengths to destroy our quality of life. This isn't about politics, or international crises—at least not now.

It's about fear and pain and terror. What kind of world do we live in today where someone could shoot up a movie theater or kill a bunch of kids and teachers in a school or plant two bombs at the end of a marathon?

Who are these people who would do these things, and how do they live among us?

This isn't a story about sports at all. Until it is.

It happened on that street in that city on that day for a reason, and that context is what makes it so hard to remember that sports are supposed to be nothing more than an escape from real life.

Most people spend their lives working hard so they can kick back on a holiday, take a day off and watch a baseball game at 11 in the morning, watch a bit of the marathon running by their apartment, and kick back with friends before an early-evening hockey game.

Patriots' Day in Boston is as much about sports as anything—until this year, when it became about so much more. As we mourn for those who passed and collectively pray for those still battling to recover, we begin to learn how and why this happened.

Thankfully, the area near the finish line wasn't more populated at the time the explosions occurred. Still, watching the scene on the street and seeing so many people being wheeled or stretchered away for medical attention, I can't help but think if this could have happened at Fenway Park.

There are more people in one section of a baseball stadium than have been reported injured at the marathon. It's haunting to think what kind of carnage we could have seen in a more densely populated area. 

Are we safe enough at our sporting events?

We get full-body scans to sit on a plane with a few dozen other people, but getting into a stadium with 50,000 others comes with a half-hearted bag search and an awkward pat-down. How many times have you sneaked in an extra bottle of water (or a flask) to a game? What's stopping someone from sneaking in more than just that?

How safe are we, really, if people watching a race on one of the most secure streets in Boston are vulnerable?

Sports can be a safe haven from life, until they aren't.

This should not be a story about sports. But Monday, sadly, it was.