Ted Mandell is a faculty member in the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television and Theatre and the author of “Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: The Greatest College Football Finishes (Since 1970).”
Remember the sports world last December?
Remember the shock? Remember the demand that the horrors that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School must never happen again?
Xavier University changed the name on the front of its uniforms to Sandy Hook. Providence College did the same on the back of its players’ jerseys. The University of Connecticut wore green SH patches the entire season.
Professionally, the New England Patriots donned black ribbon decals. The headsets of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan carried the initials S.H.E.S. On Opening Day, every Major League Baseball team wore a “Town of Newtown” patch.
The jerseys were later auctioned. The dollars went to Newtown, Conn., along with thousands more donated by teams and fans.
At least for one game, our nation played for Sandy Hook.
Moments of silence were held across the country. Then, after the games, came unprecedented outbursts from coaches.
“I’m really, really lucky,” Winthrop University basketball Coach Pat Kelsey said during a postgame press conference on Dec. 18. After the bus ride home, he said, he planned to give his 5- and 4-year-old daughters “the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I’ve ever given them. And there’s 20 families in Connecticut that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds. . . . This has to be a time for change.”
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim went further that same week after recording his 900th career victory: “If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people who represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society,” he said.
So, what are we?
One year and at least a half dozen school shootings later, including one Friday in Colorado, who’s still playing for Sandy Hook?
As the anniversary of those deaths has approached, the nation has listened to the recordings of the 911 calls made from the school after the shooter opened fire. We have read the conclusions of the official investigation. Numerous “how they’ve coped” and “forever in our hearts” stories are coming this week.
The jerseys have been auctioned off, and the hat’s been passed around. The athletes, like so much of the rest of the United States, have moved on.
And nothing has changed.
Wouldn’t it be great if just once, a professional or college sports team or a million-dollar athlete turned those uniform patches into a relentless call for action?
Sports offers the largest stage of all, one where it is a slam dunk to raise awareness. But it’s foul play to demand action.
In the corporate-sponsored sports world, professional athletes rarely protest anything beyond an official’s call. Doing so is the fastest way to lose endorsements or one’s career. But many athletes also have families. They aremothers and fathers who can sympathize.
Imagine if the Boston Red Sox had walked off the field during the final game of the World Series, demanding that the country act to protect its children from school shootings.
Imagine if the student-athletes in next month’s major-college football championship were to release a pregame statement in protest: “For the children of Sandy Hook, the students of Columbine, our friends at Virginia Tech, we will not play this game.”
Is the best we can do to hope that a rogue announcer might say: “Ladies and gentlemen, please stand and remove your caps. Ask yourselves if our country has taken any action since our last moment of silence for a school massacre, and join in the singing of our national anthem”?
A year has passed since 20 children, and others, were killed at Sandy Hook. Efforts to change national gun safety laws have failed. There have been shootings at middle schools, high schools and colleges.
When will we, as a nation, learn from our inaction? When will we do more than hold a moment of silence for a slaughter that might have been prevented?