In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and similar tragedies, pro sports teams often provide a source of healing to help society cope with the grieving process. Fortunately, such tragedies occur infrequently, but when they happen, they hit us hard. During times of difficulty, sports figures can and do emerge as leaders.
Numerous teams and athletes have responded to the Boston Marathon bombing. The Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have contributed $646,500 to The One Fund, a charity established for those most affected in the Boston bombing. Collectively, The One Fund has already raised more than $10 million. New Balance has kicked in $1 million, and Adidas announced it will contribute all the proceeds from a limited-edition “Boston Stands as One” T-shirt.
Boston has a unique culture and its people have a resolve that dates back to the founding of this country. The city has a bond with each of its four major professional teams—the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins—that is unlike any other. The passion is fueled by success, as these iconic franchises have combined to bring seven championships to Boston since 2002. Fenway Park recently ended its record sellout streak of over 800 games. The Bruins have played before packed houses 150 straight times. Celtics and Patriots tickets are also hot properties.
Established in 1897, the Boston Marathon is steeped in tradition. Inspired by the marathon in the first modern Olympics in 1896, it's the world's oldest annually contested marathon. The race is held on Patriots’ Day, a uniquely New England tradition held on the third Monday in April to commemorate the start of the American Revolutionary War.
The Boston Marathon is indeed a symbol of the resilience of a city that ignited a revolution and brought this country independence. The city's feisty resolve following the terrorist bombing should not be a surprise to anyone. One can look no further than Red Sox hero David Ortiz's spirited, albeit profane, message prior to the team's first home game after the attack.
Sports can unite even bitter rivals at the most trying times. When the New York Knicks hosted the Boston Celtics in the days following the bombing, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce took the mic at Madison Square Garden and spoke to the crowd about unity. Likewise, "New York stands with Boston" symbols featuring the logos of both the Red Sox and Yankees, the most heated rivalry in U.S. professional sports, went viral.
New York knows well the healing power that sports can bring.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Mets players and staff were on the front lines at Ground Zero. Then manager Bobby Valentine and stars, including Mike Piazza, helped hand out supplies and lifted the spirits of the rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center. When baseball resumed, the Mets donated a day’s salary to the relief efforts. Piazza's dramatic home run vs. the Atlanta Braves in the first game at Shea Stadium after the attacks has become part of New York baseball lore.
The Yankees are equally active in community involvement. In 2009, the team launched HOPE Week in which players actively participate in charitable projects in addition to what they may already do individually. HOPE week has evolved into an annual effort that has brought joy to thousands of New Yorkers while raising awareness of serious social issues.
Fine examples of sports leadership occur regularly outside of the northeast. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina became one of the most devastating natural disasters in America's history. At a time when people needed it most, the New Orleans Saints and the NFL helped restore hope in the community with millions of dollars in donations and countless hours of community service.
After Drew Brees became the Saints quarterback in 2006, he made an impact in the Crescent City. First, he led to franchise, perennially known for its losing ways, to its first ever Super Bowl Victory. Later, he established the Brees Dream Foundation, which partnered with Operation Kids, to fund the restoration of academic facilities, athletic centers and after-school programs in the greater New Orleans area. The quarterback's foundation also donated $1 million to a Hurricane Sandy relief fund in 2012.
In times of despair, athletes have the opportunity to demonstrate they can be heroes both on and off the field. One does not have to be a feared slugger or Pro Bowl quarterback to be a leader. Some professional athletes actively use their celebrity status to draw attention to worthy causes. Other times, they prefer to do things in the background and have their generosity known only to those directly impacted by their efforts. Leaders can be loud or quiet.
Whether they choose to embrace the responsibility of being role models, sports figures should know the power they have to help us heal. The best of them will set the example for their fans by helping others.