Sports help keep our minds off tragedy

SEATTLE — What are we to do when unspeakable tragedy strikes at a sporting event, as it did Monday at the Boston Marathon?

There is no easy answer, nor is there a correct one. For some, it is a time to hug a loved one extra hard. For others, it’s a time to find ways to reach out and help a devastated community. And for others still, the best to respond to an attack on our country, on our sporting events, is to get right back out and let sports serve one of their very best purposes: a diversion when we need it most.

So often we hear about sports being trivial in times of tragedy. After September 11, after far too many school shootings and after Monday’s horrific bombings in Boston, sports are called trivial.

And thank goodness for trivial. Like many of you, I spent way too many hours watching coverage of the cowardly attack that ruined a day of celebration in Boston. And like the 12,379 who were at Safeco Field to watch the Mariners kick off a three-game series against Detroit, like sports fans in stadiums and arenas around the country Tuesday, I welcomed a few hours that were, yes, trivial compared to real life. When you hear news reports about an 8-year-old boy being killed, about people losing limbs, a trivial night at the ballpark can be pretty damn nice.

Seeing fathers and daughters sharing pulls from a giant piece of cotton candy, hearing kids behind home plate playfully heckle Prince Fielder, seeing 20-somethings enjoy beers in “The ‘Pen” without a care in the world other than, “Am I going to score some digits?” — those are the little moments that remind us that it’s OK to smile even after a day of tears.

Yet as welcome a distraction as a sunny night at a ballgame might be, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Monday’s attack took place at a sporting event. There is a reason that we have our bags checked when we go into stadiums or go through metal detectors. When thousands of people gather in one area, we are vulnerable, a fact that was exploited in the worst way Monday. That’s why there were double the usual number of uniformed members of the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office outside of Safeco Field Tuesday, it’s why there was a U.S. Coast Guard canine unit outside the stadium, and it’s why those bag checks at the Safeco Field gates seemed a little more thorough. A Mariners spokesman would not comment on any changes made to security, but did say that, while Major League Baseball security has no information on threats against its stadiums, Monday’s attack in Boston did prompt teams to look at how they handle security.

Monday reminded us that we are never 100 percent safe when we gather in large crowds, but the truth is, we never have been. Instead, we trust in the security measures in place, and more importantly, in we put faith in the good in humanity that, as we saw Monday, can outweigh the evil.

Someday we’ll find out that a handful of people, or maybe just one nut-job, or maybe a small terrorist organization, was responsible for Monday’s bombing. But already we have seen and heard stories of hundreds of first responders, race volunteers, runners and fans who leapt into action seconds after the first bomb went off.

Reports quickly surfaced of runners who had just finished a grueling 26.2 miles kept on running to donate blood at a nearby hospital. By Monday night, hundreds of Bostonians had posted their information online offering to take in strangers who had nowhere to go because their hotels were located in parts of the city that had been locked down.

There was unspeakable evil in Boston on Monday; there was also a hell of a lot of good. And it’s become incredibly cliche to say at this point, but staying away from the events we love, staying home for fear of the worst, is only giving fuel to those who try to instill fear.

That’s why, a day after he spent his afternoon worrying about the well being of friends and family, Seattle University student Anthony Anastasi was at a game, celebrating a friend’s birthday at the ballpark. Anastasi, who was born on the east coast and has family in Quincy, Mass., has friends who work in businesses on Boylston Street, the street where the bombs went off. An uncle works in the area, too. Yet a day after fearing for the safety of loved ones because of an attack on a sporting event, Anastasi was wearing his Red Sox cap and enjoying a sporting event.

“It’s tough to hear about those type of things, but you can’t question the safety of it, because you know everybody is doing what they can,” he said. “There are always going to be lunatics out there who do those type of things, but you don’t want to shy away from these things, because that’s what our country is built on. It’s built on coming together as a country, and the whole point of people doing things like that is to break us apart. You’ve just got to fight and work towards coming together as a country.

“We’re enjoying the day. You can’t dwell on the hardships; that’s what they want you to do. We’re embracing the fact that we live in such a great country.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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