On a day like this, it is difficult to think about sports. Nothing much matters when you hear 31 people have been massacred on a college campus. Nothing matters except taking care of family and connecting with friends. So your school softball team wins 3-2, or your high school captures a conference title. That doesn’t mean much on a day like this. Instead of worrying about pitch counts or golf strokes, we’re too busy counting blessings. Thank God for the people who survived the shootings. We give thanks for the nurses and physicians who plugged and sutured and saved the lives of bullet-riddled young (and old) bodies and for the people we know in Blacksburg, Va., who were not injured and for the police and EMTs who rushed in to save so many others.
On a day like this, we do not worry whether the Yankees won or whether a sprinter can break 22 seconds to reach the NCAA nationals or even that a coach refuses to answer our calls. Instead, we count our blessings, that our family members are safe and secure, and we smother our daughters with long hugs and try not to cry as we watch the ghastly pictures on television. We are numb.
On a day like this, nothing makes sense. Not that a young man could methodically kill so many people. Nor that he could calmly walk down the aisles and shoot students in the head or that he could laugh as classmates slammed to the floor, life (and hope) spilling from their bodies. No matter how much we learn about the shooter’s psyche and background and life, we will never understand or accept that this rampage could happen.
On a day like this, sports do not mean a whole lot – they are just games, ways to celebrate life by romping over freshly mown fields and by chucking round balls into hoops and by kicking balls into nets. We are thankful for these more peaceful times spent with friends and teammates where all was well with the world. Sports can heal and salve the wounds suffered outside the lines, bringing us together and allowing us to forget our worries. In time, games will return to Blacksburg. Athletes will throw pitches and return serves and drive balls down the fairway. And students will return to watch, perhaps to cheer for their school or to escape their worries for a few hours. But these games will matter less for the more obvious reasons one plays sports – to win. That will not be the point on these fields in the coming weeks.
On a day like this, sports are put in perspective. Players who miss free throws in the final seconds are not losers, and young women who strike out to end a game are not proverbial goats. They are just students trying their best, kids who are sad and angry. As journalists, we will certainly cite these plays, but we should not exacerbate the moment, inflaming readers to wonder how someone could fail so miserably. Nobody wants to strike out or miss a shot. We need to be reminded of this as fans and journalists. It’s sad that it takes something so brutal as these shootings on a college campus to remind us about something so obvious.
On a day like this, I feel sadder than I have in some time – even though I am several hundreds of miles away. On TV, the campus police chief is telling me who the shooter is, a senior at the college who majored in English and who used a 9-millimeter handgun. But I really don’t know what this means. I can only hope, in time, I will not want to sit down and cry. My daughter tells me, “I do not want to go to college.” I tell her everything will be okay, that this rampage is not normal. But how do you tell that to a 12-year-old – or to a parent of one of the young men and women who were killed yesterday morning? Or to the kids whose dad was taken away? All I can do is sit on the couch and hold my daughters tightly and watch the scenes on television, wishing hugs were flack jackets. We sit and wait for soccer practice this afternoon, when, once again, they can escape into games with friends. My daughters will fly across the field, spring breezing through their hair, adrenalin pumping through them as they race for loose balls. They will high-five one another after a good play and laugh and joke with their coaches. For a while, I also will be able to smile and laugh and enjoy these games on an open field half a country away. Afterward, I may feel guilty. But these moments are part of the healing process, one I hope the people in Blacksburg can experience soon. My thoughts are with them.