By CHRIS MARKHAM
The national anthem is the most popular pre-game song in America, played at just about any sporting event. Up until Sept. 10, 2001, it was not uncommon for players and fans to ignore our nation’s song in favor of their own thoughts and worries of the moment. But this all changed with the next day’s events, a day that changed much about the U.S. and once again made the national anthem a force of pride.
After the 9/11 attacks, most the world of sports was put on hold. The NFL canceled its games for the upcoming week, acknowledging the fact that it was far more important for personnel to be with their loved ones as everyone continued to try to come to terms with the events that had transpired. NASCAR postponed the New Hampshire 300 for much of the same reason.
As time passed, however, we realized that things had to go back to normal eventually. The games, which were first seen as irrelevant in comparison to the attacks, were eventually recognized as a vital part of the healing process.
The first major sporting event in New York after 9/11 was the Mets vs. Atlanta Braves game, 10 days after the attacks. The two division rivals graciously took part in a game that obviously meant much more than a pennant race. Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones admitted that he was terrified heading into the game, pointing out that what better place for terrorists to strike again than at a major league ballpark.
The fans attending the game were not particularly cheering for a specific team, but rather for the nation as a whole, sending a message to those responsible that we would not lie down.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Mike Piazza hit a two-run home run that gave the Mets a 3-2 lead and proved to be the game-winning hit. His swing has often been looked at as the prime example of the healing power of sports.
As the rest of the sports world returned to normal, tributes continued to be paid by athletes. Every NFL team wore 9/11 patches on their jerseys to remember the victims, and many NASCAR drivers had American flag patterns painted on their cars. It was not until the following season that signs of the 9/11 attacks were gone from sports.
In times of great tragedy, people have a chance to look at life a little differently, be thankful for what they have and place differences behind them. Sports are often used by many as a remedy to cure physical or emotional pain. Some may use sports as an escape from the real world, while others use it to pay tribute to those they have lost.
When the national anthem is played, take time to understand the importance of it and why it is played before the games. Picture the emotion on the faces of those at the Mets vs. Braves game on Sept. 21, 2001 when the national anthem was played. That is the power sports have on us as a nation, showing to those that try to knock us down that the American spirit is stronger than any other.