How the World of Sports Helped a World with Sorrow and Pain from 9/11

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst ISeptember 11, 2009

LAS VEGAS - SEPTEMBER 11:  The American flag flies at half mast in front of a replica of the Statue of Liberty in honor of the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 at the New York, New York Hotel on September 11, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It is a day which still replays vividly in my mind as if it happened recently. All the sights, the sounds, and moods from those 24 hours on a Tuesday, a mid-September date in 2001, are fresh and poignant.

September 11, often referred to as 9/11, was one of the darker chapters of our world's fickle history. However, nobody could have predicted that horrible chain of events on the morning of that tragic date.

Eight years ago, I woke up and began getting ready for another routine, monotonous day at Bellingham High School in southeastern Massachusetts. I was a 10th grader who was like any other 15-year-old, concerned more about what would happen with the now rather than the next day, week, or month.

My thoughts consisted of the following:

  • Biology was surely not going to be an easy class to pass, even if my teacher made it more appealing to pay attention to during our lectures.
  • I needed to go to the library so that I could go online and read the latest updates in NASCAR from Jayski.
  • There's a cute girl I had to ask out, since the big social dance was happening later that quarter.

While I was not set out to accomplish all three of those goals, if you will, the point was that the world around me had a more innocent feel, more so then than now.

Just like any morning that year, save for summer vacation, I woke up at 5:30 to shower, dress up, tend to house chores, eat breakfast, and then be driven to school by my mom by 7:30.

As usual, I got to school by 7:45, with just a minute to spare to organize my books and belongings in my locker and arrive in homeroom before the bell.

Biology class was predictably quite the borefest, as the 90-minute class slowly went by like a caution lap around the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

Just getting through it was a joyful realization, although that class was on tap for another three days in a row, something I am glad to not contend with in college today.

American History was next and with all honesty, it was my favorite subject in high school. Having a fond appreciation for history, especially for U.S. and the Philippines, I was anticipating an interesting discourse about the Revolutionary War.

What I did not know was that I was completely wrong about what we would talk about in our class. For that matter, I do not think any American or individual who was awake at 8:46, 9:03, 9:37, and 10:03 a.m. EDT believed what they'd wake up to.

I got to my classroom by 9:30 a.m., where the TV was on, watched by all of my classmates who watched the horrifying pictures with shock, sadness, and disbelief.

Curious, I asked one of my classmates what happened.

"Rob, you won't believe it, but some guy crashed an airplane right into the World Trade Center."

"Are you sure? This isn't one of those horrible action flicks, is it? Tell me it's not real."

"I'm sorry man, but this is real. All of what you see on the screen is actually happening."

It was a moment in time where it seemed like everything stopped and all other concerns were irrelevant at that point.

All those feelings and thoughts of hope and innocence were completely washed away, replaced by the images and sounds of the explosions, screams, and cries from Lower Manhattan.

What could possess someone to actually crashing a passenger plane into a building where there were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and innocent bystanders working one moment and suddenly killed the next?

Then my thoughts center with the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11, where all 81 hands were lost aboard a plane originally destined for Los Angeles. I could not imagine the agony and loss felt by the families and friends of those victims.

Flight 11's devastation was resonated by another act of terrorism with United Airlines Flight 175, where all 56 passengers along with crew members and the hijackers perished from the powerful impact on the World Trade Center's South Tower.

That act of terrorism was the crash that many media outlets caught on live, raw footage. News channels, locally and nationally, caught the last moments of Flight 175, crashing right into the South Tower.

Moments after the two unbelievable attacks on New York City, tragedies at Shanksville, PA and the Pentagon near the Capitol would occur within a 40-minute span.

Everything not relating to the events of 9/11 seemed irrelevant. That afternoon, evening, and the days proceeding the terrorist attacks were about the most numb experiences that I have ever dealt with in my life, knowing that the world was truly never the same again.

After 9/11, like many Americans, I looked for ways to cope with the pain and anguish from the tragedies. Life could not be stalled on that day permanently, for the darkest chapter of the book of life needed some positive spirit and hope.

There had to be some kind of sign that would assure us that, while life would never be the same, we could press on.

As Filipinos say after a day that did not go according to plan, "May bukas pa."

In other words, there was always tomorrow. Even in moments of despair and gloom, a ray of light with answers and comfort always appears, offering solace to those who needed it and a sign that all would be right for those who needed that reassurance.

The world stood still for a week, with sports and other extracurricular activities taking a backseat.

Major sporting leagues announced their intentions of resuming operations within days, with some starting the following week while others were looking at a later date.

Security tightened up and Americans sought various means of comfort, resorting to patriotism while others wondered when it would be appropriate to laugh, smile, and cheer again.

While there will never be a panacea or elixir to the traumatic effects produced by the events of 9/11, the universal answer reemerged before our very eyes: sports.

New Yorkers found a silver lining when their teams, particularly the Yankees and Jets, resumed their games.

A sense of rebuilding and resumption was felt, as fans of even opposing cities and teams cheered on "The Big Apple" from the moment it fell to the days and years it stood back up on its collective toes.

Others found that sports not only helped them overcome the grief of September 11, but that it brought a sense of reconnection with familial lines.

On the evening of this historical date of our world, I pressed the question about 9/11 and sports to my long-time friend Bri Jeffrey.

Most of our conversations revolve around the world of sports, among other topics that most 20-somethings talk about as true friends do over the years.

"The main role (that) sports has played for me is finding a connection to my dad," she said. "I guess it could be considered considered a comfort and protection, which I needed more of after 9/11."

Tragedy has a way of either bringing out the ugliest and most beautiful acts of humanity, depending on the individual who perceives those moments.

For Bri, it meant a closer relationship to her father.

For many Americans living in the States and across the world, sports were one of the symbolical green lights that told us we could step on the gas pedal and keep moving forward to our destinations.

For me, when I was 15, sports told me that no matter how difficult and horrifying life can be at times, the wheels had to keep on rolling. It was not going to stop even after one of the darkest days of our existence.

Rather, it was another reminder that life was truly too precious to be stuck in a moment.

In a time when financial difficulties and health impairments are the oft-discussed topics of our societies today, a welcomed diversion is needed to remind us that our existence on Earth is to be enjoyed at its maximum.

Eight years later at age 23, I not only remember that sports is that distraction, but that 9/11 is a reminder of the fragility and preciousness that life has for me.

When life can be too hectic and overwhelming for the demands of success, efficiency, and solutions, sports has its way of reminding us about that innocence and youthful exuberance we once had...and can still have today.