Tragedy and Sports: 9/11 and the NHL
By Taylor Konyk
For years, the great sports teams in America have developed city culture. Talk to a New York Yankee fan and they’ll be sure to enlighten you of their team’s American League supremacy including their 27 World Series titles. Or, in the off chance you happen upon a Pittsburgh Steelers fan—try not to look too hard—you may detect a certain brand of arrogance that comes with six Super Bowl victories. It’s true that sports act as a source of division in the United States. Nearly tribal, sports fanatics stake their claims and invest heart and soul into a brand that battles day in and day out for their chance at bragging rights.
However, in times of severe trouble sports serve a much more crucial role. Sports unite the common man in times of tragedy.
The attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 shook America to its core—and left the world shocked in awe. Its times like these that sports play their most crucial role—where they act as social medicine to numb the pain of loss, sorrow, and fear.
In 2001, the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans displayed an immeasurable of amount of sportsmanship, patriotism, and respect for victims and victims’ families in a preseason match-up versus the New York Rangers.
Soon after the conclusion of the second period the Flyers and Rangers headed to their respective locker rooms and an address by President George W. Bush began playing on the large jumbotron in the—then called—First Union Center.
The Flyers and Rangers prepared for a third period battle, the Jumbotron transformed into a scoreboard as the game was preparing to resume. In classic Philadelphia fashion, the fans of the First Union Center booed until the jumbotron reappeared with President Bush’s address.
As the speech continued, Flyers chairman Ed Snider decided the game had served its purpose and announced that the third period would be cancelled. The game ended in a two-all tie.
Afterward former Flyer Bill Barber spoke with Tim Panaccio, an Inquirer staff writer, about the decision.
“The right decision was made. Any time the President addresses the United States of America and the World, it exceeds any sporting event,” he said.
In the same interview with Panaccio, Keith Primeau said, “I lost sight it was a hockey game.” Teammate Jeremy Roenick said “the players felt a bond with the fans because all were watching Bush in an extraordinary moment in history,” wrote Panaccio.
Competition aside, fans, players, coaches, and owners all joined in together understanding the true meaning of sports and competition: morale.
Sports serve as a morale booster—a fuel for the everyman to keep pushing onward. In the aftermath of a great and unimaginable tragedy, the Philadelphia Flyers organization captured the essence of competition by giving the fans an opportunity to live in a moment in time that would be remembered by all who were fortunate enough to tune in.
Together, the entire First Union Center united as one. Players took center ice to shake hands and pay their respect to their opponents.
Though the nature of the game divides our great nation across team lines—sometimes, when it is most necessary that people unite—sports are the exact remedy we need to overcome disaster.