People need the diversion, NFL should play Sunday

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Wednesday, September 12, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

A couple of months after my youngest son died in 1994, I was in the Los Angeles Coliseum covering a Washington-USC football game and I saw the famous sportswriter Jim Murray.

I knew that Murray had lost a son and so I went over and introduced myself, told him of Mike’s death and asked him how he had been able to cope with his own son’s death.

He said he had stayed busy, covering sports events that he might not even have considered going to in years past. He said the worst of it was the nights he spent in lonely hotels with time to think about his son.

I could have sat around and thought about Mike for days on end – and I did plenty of that – but I knew that for my own mental well being, I had to get back to work. So I stayed as busy as I could. Those times I went on the road, late at night after I had finished writing, were the worst, and I couldn’t wait until morning so I could get on a plane and be around people.

Our country suffered a terrible loss this week when terrorists struck in New York and Washington, D.C.

Out of respect for the thousands who died, Major League Baseball postponed games through tonight. Many college football games were also postponed, including Washington’s match with No.1 Miami on Saturday. No doubt, with huge crowds attending some games and teams traveling hither and yon, security concerns also played a part in the postponements.

Now the NFL is trying to decide whether it should play on Sunday. Still fresh in the minds of NFL officials, even 38 years after the fact, is the barrage of criticism the league received for playing the Sunday after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle rued that decision to his dying day.

Now another NFL commissioner has to decide whether teams should play Sunday after the most devastating attack on this country in its history.

One man’s opinion: The NFL should play.

That might sound crass, that might sound cold, that might sound heartless.

Believe me, it isn’t.

We need to mourn the victims. But at some point, we also need to move on. The sooner, the better.

Games seem so trivial now. So unimportant. Even in normal times, they’re nothing but diversions. But we need diversions to balance our lives.

In our own little world up here in the Northwest corner of the country, we’ve had the best diversion possible this summer with the Seattle Mariners and their fantastic season. You know there are people who have had tragedy visit their lives and you know that the Mariners have been there to take their minds off of their grief.

The day-to-day business of baseball for six months is a healthy catharsis. You laugh. You cry. You rant. You rave. You cleanse yourself of what tortures you, even if just for a little while.

It is the healthy thing to do. We can grieve forever, but what good does it do?

Jim Murray was right. I needed to keep my mind and body occupied.

We as a nation need to keep our minds and bodies occupied after this great tragedy.

We have had a cessation of sports activity. The NFL, of course, plays only once a week, so if it doesn’t take Sunday off, critics will charge that it hasn’t shown proper respect for those who lost their lives.

You think NFL players haven’t grieved during this national disaster? You think some of them haven’t been touched by the loss of a friend or an acquaintance? You think because they are football players that they are insensitive to the emotional damage to others? You think they haven’t gone home after practice and hugged their children a little tighter this week?

Football players aren’t automatons, except when it comes to answering reporters’ questions. They feel. They bleed. They cry just like you and I. If they play on Sunday, many will carry heavy hearts into their games, just as many fans will carry heavy hearts into the stadiums.

Maybe, because of that, they won’t play with the same energy that they normally do. And that’s all right.

But they need to play. They need to play to help those who come to watch them play get through this ordeal. They need to play so that fans can cheer and boo and rant and rave. They need to play not so fans can forget what happened on Tuesday. We will never forget that day. It will be etched in our memories forever, in our national conscience forever. But we have a responsibility to move on. We have lives to live. We have children to raise. We have jobs to do.

Mourn, we must. But live, we must, too.

To come together in a football or baseball stadium and cheer our guts out for our favorite teams is a good first step toward getting on with the rest of our lives.

Rozelle caught hell for his decision in 1963. As he should have. JFK was murdered on a Friday. Forty-eight hours later, the NFL was playing games. Americans had hardly had time for his death to sink in, let alone to mourn him.

If the NFL plays Sunday, the nation will have had five days to honor the victims of Tuesday, deadly Tuesday. We need to remember them with a long moment of silence before the game and with a playing of “America.”

Then we need to turn our attention to 60 minutes of diversion. Sixty minutes of football.

It might not seem the right thing to do, but it is.

Trust me.

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