Lincicome: When sports are played so close to the ashes of terror

  • Mets catcher Mike Piazza wears the NYPD logo on his helmet as he takes the field Sept. 21, 2001, against the Atlanta Braves in New York.

    Mets catcher Mike Piazza wears the NYPD logo on his helmet as he takes the field Sept. 21, 2001, against the Atlanta Braves in New York. Associated Press

Updated 9/10/2021 2:46 PM

The New York Yankees were the home team of 9/11, some several weeks later and in another World Series, fourth in a row. Maybe it was the only time anyone outside New York loved them. The Yankees lost in seven games to Arizona. A classic Series. Maybe the best.

I can recall 20 years later the rubble still downtown and the dust still in midtown, the sudden need to cough for no reason. Surely, sports columnists had no place there.


I felt a duty, not as a journalist but as an American to get as close to ground zero as obligation and security would allow, close enough to shudder that games would still be played, so soon or ever again, certainly not this close to the ashes of terror.

And yet I convinced myself that sports had a place in the healing. I wrote something of the sort at the time.

Sports will be nicer now, a good thing, I wrote. I expect less trash talk, fewer cheap shots, not as much chatter about the big game meaning going to war, that sort of thing. Didn't happen.

Frenzied patriots -- not the football team -- dress in battle fatigues and attack the U.S. Capitol. Camouflage coveralls pass for fashion. Fighter jets fly over COVID crowds, athletes run through smoke to the field and explosions are louder than ever.

Athletes are not warriors and games are not battles and the line of scrimmage is not a trench. An offensive explosion is ... well, we know what it is. The pictures are on YouTube.

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It is time, I wrote, to get rid of drill teams and flyovers and all the strained connections between the happy world of sports and the props of martial belligerence. Taking weapons out of the hands of team mascots might be a start. Didn't happen.

Ah, maybe sports did do their part. The night President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch of Game 3, a perfect strike, he was hailed as a healer. Maybe he was. Then.

More likely, passing time and foolish wars, disasters natural and global since have crowded into our lives, diminishing the hurt we once thought would never, should never, fade.

What is 9/11 now? An anniversary? Too lax a term. A catch phrase -- or catch number, really -- that carries diminishing weight as generations need reminding of what it means.


It was raw and real in the original and witnesses who were there and the rest of us elsewhere need no reminders of the horror of that morning.

The Monday night football game on Sept. 10, 2001, where I then worked, was held in a new football stadium that had replaced a wonderful old rattle trap in Denver. I can't remember if it even had a corporate name yet. I'm sure I made fun of it if it did. It was easy to be snarky then.

One of the teams, the losing team, was New York, and the Giants would fly back home through the night into a dawn like no other, to a morning that would soon stun the world.

Late night deadlines mean sleeping in the next morning. Not this day. My wife shook me awake for the second airplane, the first tower already smoldering.

Sports matter, huh? I missed Game 3 of the 2001 Series at Yankee Stadium for a basketball game in Madison Square Garden. The coincidental comeback of Michael Jordan, then with Washington, opened the NBA season.

The event was filled with folderol and overproduced clutter as if it was in competition with the Series. The same President Bush who was in person in the Bronx, was on the jumbo screen in the Garden reminding everyone that "sports is an important part of our national life."

Another diversion from reality. Needed? Maybe not, but indelible. I still remember MJ scored 19, missed 17 shots, his first a jumper off the back of the rim. The Wizards lost. Jordan was a bit heavier and a step slower, a relic but upright, yet a sight that saddened me.

I saw the metaphor and resisted it, what once was and is no more. Down the street was a real ruin, one without choice.

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