Terror hits in sports setting

In the wake of a tragedy, it’s common for pundits to talk about sports as an escape.

After Sept. 11, the people of New York had their spirits lifted by the New York Yankees’ World Series run in 2001. After Hurricane Katrina, the Saints’ emergence as a playoff football team was seen as a galvanizing force for a battered community.

But what happens when tragedy occurs in the middle of a sporting event?

We found out earlier this week, when bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. Several people lost their lives, while more suffered serious injuries. Certainly, our thoughts remain with the victims and their families, as well as the victims of the accident in West, Texas.

Moving forward, there’s plenty to think about.

Suddenly, a sporting event wasn’t a fun distraction from daily life. It was the setting for an attack.

On Friday night, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was in Bloomdale for a dinner at Elmwood High School. Pees, who coached Elmwood’s football program for four years in the 1970s, has been to the top of his profession, working in three Super Bowls. For six seasons, he worked as an assistant under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots.

He said he maintains deep connections to the Boston area; one of his daughters still lives there.

“I’ve always thought, at any of those events, that might be where the next (terrorist attack) might happen, whether it be a Super Bowl, whether it be a championship game of any kind,” Pees said. “You never know.”

In truth, big time sporting events are a concern. There just aren’t many things in our culture that can attract thousands of people in such a small space. Big stadiums could be a target for this reason. Equally, while security at sporting events has increased over the years, it’s not like the airport. It can’t be, with the masses of people filing through in a short period of time.

This column isn’t meant to scare, but it is to make a pair of important points. First off, while sporting events allow us to act differently than we might any day of the week, they don’t – they can’t – provide a complete break from the world.

At the same time, fear of an attack shouldn’t stop us from attending big events. Pees said it best Friday.

“You can’t live your life running scared,” Pees said. “You’ve just got to do what you do, and you don’t really think about it, unfortunately, until usually after it happens.”

It’s a balance.

It’s also a reminder.

For all the normalcy sporting events can provide in the wake of a tragedy, they are not immune to tragedy.