Games can help drain overload of pain

September 18, 2001|By Mike Preston

AS I LEFT the field Saturday morning after my 9-year-old son's football game, there was a sense of relief. For one hour, there were no thoughts about innocent people being used as human missiles or television replays of those jets crashing into the World Trade Center.

The tension was gone and the anger had subsided, at least for a little while. As the day went on, there were thoughts about an Atlantic Coast Conference or Big Ten football game in the afternoon, and the usual featured Southeastern Conference game at night.

Nothing. Everything had been canceled.

So as the NFL and Major League Baseball went back to work yesterday, there is excitement because a void is being filled and a diversion from reality is back in our lives.

As of this morning, I will no longer feel guilty asking a friend how badly the Orioles lost last night or if the knee of Ravens cornerback Duane Starks is healthy enough for him to play Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. I won't feel ashamed about asking if Barry Bonds homered to close in on Mark McGwire's single-season home run record, or who is on Monday Night Football.

This is no offense to the country or to the families that suffered through the death and agony of last week's tragedy in New York, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, but it's time to return to normality. And sports is a major part of our lives.

Like most sports fans, I was glued to the TV last weekend, watching world events unfold and people participating in memorial services. But after a while, the eyes burned and the head ached. Too much CNN. Way too much Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. After a while, you become paralyzed in an emotional fog that drains energy.

That's when I realized it was time to restart the games.

"The president has said it's time to go back to work, and that's exactly what we're going to do," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "With all the attention and focus, we all have to be careful about becoming a little numb to it. It almost becomes unreal. That's all you hear about. That's all people talk about until it becomes overload.

"None of us will forget the tragedies we all have witnessed," said Billick. "Our nation is going through a healing process and the NFL playing games this weekend will help that rehabilitation."

It's the right time. Last weekend would have been too soon. There were still safety concerns and the nation's top legal officials were trying to determine who or what group to blame and how many of the terrorist cell were still in the country. There is much more investigating to do, but at least government officials appear to have a handle on it now.

Americans also still needed time to grieve, to remove more bodies from the rubble and to show respect for the affected families from the stunning events that will change our lives forever.

It was a time for America to catch its collective breath.

But after showing a remarkable spirit and sense of pride, people can now look to sports as a part of the rallying cry in rebuilding the nation's psyche.

Once again, Americans will tailgate in the parking lots. Thousands of them will gather to support and cheer for their favorite teams. There will be healthy debates again, like if Edgerrin James is a better running back than Eddie George, or if Cal Ripken is, indeed, the greatest shortstop of all time.

Rivalries will be restored.

"I think it would help," said Ravens defensive end Michael Mc- Crary of playing games. "It would take their minds off the events that are going on. We don't want to forget it or avoid it, but to temporarily relieve ourselves. Then after the game, get back and focus on what is going on."

The individual teams can take it a step further. They can invite military units to the game, or honor national and New York law enforcement and firefighting officials. They can raise money through different charity events.

Just about anything will help out.

The events of last week certainly changed our lives and gave us a new perspective. In sports, we throw the word hero around too cheaply. We like to equate football with war, and use similar terms.

We need to be more careful. Those firefighters and police were heroes. So were the hostages who, according to some reports, forced down United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

Michael Jordan may be the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but I don't care if he returns or not. The major story in our lives is about a possible war, and all the ramifications.

And sometimes, we need a diversion. I just want to watch some games. Any game.

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