How Sports Support Communities in Times of Tragedy

We unfortunately start off our November blog series with a story that has been written too many times. After the chaos that was the final few days of October in the US, our hearts go out to all who were affected by the tragedies in Pittsburgh and Kentucky. As it has with past tragedies in this country, the sports world has stepped in and continued to promote peace, unity and understanding.

Sport has the power to change the world, as Nelson Mandela famously said, but it also has the power to heal it. Young people who play sports do better in school, are more likely to avoid negative activities and behaviors, are more likely to graduate high school, and are overall healthier and happier. More importantly, sport brings together young people from different backgrounds and teaches them to work together towards a goal. 

No matter how many tragedies we face, we see more people coming together to help and support those who are suffering. Sport plays a huge role in promoting unity- reminding people that we may not always play for the same team, but we are all human.

9/11

After the tragic 9/11 attacks in New York City, the first local game played was a New York Mets baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, only ten days after the attacks. Mets’ Mike Piazza hit a game winning home run in the 8th inning and the entire city seemed to come together to celebrate. Michael Jordan donated his salary at the Washington Wizards to the recovery effort and to victims of the attack.

Then New York Giants Quarterback Kerry Collins donated $275,000 to 9/11 charities and paid a visit to firefighters in Greenwich Village. Former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter befriended the family of one of the pilots of the hijacked planes and invited them to a game. That season, the New York Yankees went on to win the World Series, a truly historic moment where sports was a unifying force for the nation.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina brought massive devastation to New Orleans. The New Orleans Saints were forced out of the city for 21 months as their home stadium, the Superdome, served as a shelter and community center. Sports teams and leagues were some of the biggest donors to Hurricane Katrina relief, raising over $40 million collectively in a matter of a couple weeks. When they were able to return home to New Orleans, the Saints went on to reach their first NFC Championship ever, bringing joy to a city that had seen so much sadness.

Sandy Hook

When the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, several teams like Xavier Football, University of Connecticut Football, Rex Ryan then coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots wore patches with the school’s initials, changed the names on their jerseys to Sandy Hook or wore emblems and ribbons. The jerseys worn were auctioned and the money was donated to families of the victims. Former NFL Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, then a New York Giant, learned that he was the favorite player of one of the boys killed in the shooting. He wrote the boy’s name “Jack Pinto, My Hero, RIP” on his cleats during his next game, and his family went to visit Jack’s family and members of his pop warner team.

Parkland

Just days after the Parkland shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School won the Florida Hockey State Title. Florida Panthers star Roberto Luongo spoke before a hockey game about the tragedy that occurred and encouraged people to donate to the victims families. The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade paid the high school a visit and met with the family of Joaquin Oliver, a big fan of Wade’s who was killed in the shooting.

NFL Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget, who is from Parkland, visited the school and created a scholarship to honor the school’s football coach who was also killed in the tragedy after shielding students with his body. The US Women’s Soccer team honored another victim- Alyssa, a travel soccer player, by sending her club soccer and school soccer teammates to attend the SheBelieves game in Orlando. Alyssa’s teammates and family each received a custom jersey with her name and number.  

“Look for the helpers”

Peyton Manning visited a local high school in Aurora, Colorado after learning that one of their students had been killed in the infamous theater shooting. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. The Houston Astros won the World Series after the $200 billion worth of damages and devastation that Hurricane Harvey brought to the region. Houston Texans’ Quarterback J.J. Watt raised over $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, teams across Central Florida jumped in to sell t-shirts branded #OrlandoUnited to raise money for the victims through the OneOrlando Fund.

And now, most recently, in Pittsburgh. After the tragic shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue, sports has once again become an example of unity and love.

The Pittsburgh Steelers played a game the very next day and held a moment of silence for the victims. They won the game and players like star QB Ben Roethlisberger said that he was glad to be able to give the city a bit of an escape, but he knew there were things bigger than football that day. Nearly 100 members of the Pittsburgh Steelers players and staff attended the funerals of Cecil and David Rosenthal, brothers of former Steelers Community Relations Director Michele Rosenthal. The Steelers logo was altered to show a Jewish Star of David and the words “Stronger Than Hate” as a symbol of solidarity for the victims and their families.

The Pittsburgh Penguins wore “Stronger Than Hate” patches on their hockey jerseys in their first home game since the shooting. The jerseys were signed by each player and auctioned to raise money to support the families of the victims. The team donated $50,000, plus proceeds from the 50/50 raffle and all other donations collected at the game, to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and a fund for the wounded police officers. The total amounted to over $209,000 in one night!

Sports have always been stronger than hate. No matter what happens, sport is there for us- whether as an opportunity to stand up to hate, or just an opportunity for someone who is suffering to find joy in something. All those players, teams, leagues and organizations from the grassroots to professional level should be proud that they are showing the true power of sport to bring people together everyday.

Leave a Reply