My first feeling Monday afternoon when I heard the news from Boston was not shock. My second feeling was sadness at not being shocked. Not that many years ago, bombs going off at a sporting event would have been stunning. No longer.
Sporting events must seem like irresistible targets to people damaged enough to build and detonate bombs like the two that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing three and wounding 170. After all, sports attracts families, the elderly and the very young, couples, singles, work outings, birthday parties. And people who attend sporting events are almost always happy, at least at the outset. They occasionally get angry and sometimes — when alcohol is involved — they get rowdy.
But in general, fans at sporting events seem to be having a good time. And that can be a powerful trigger to terrorists, foreign and domestic, organized into groups or just a couple of disaffected and determined nut jobs building bombs in a basement.
Large events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics are saturated with security. The Olympics tightened security for athletes after the tragedy in Munich in 1972 and again after the bombing in Atlanta in 1996, which happened not in a venue but in a public space created specifically for people to unwind downtown.
No matter their particular agenda, terrorists seem to want to strike at the hearts of their victims, literally and figuratively. In this country, that makes sports a natural target. There are people who don’t care for any kind of organized sports, but they are outnumbered by the legions who follow something and can picture themselves as part of a crowd like the one at the finish line on Boylston Street, when joy and laughter turned to sorrow and screams — and then, inevitably, to acts of bravery and heroism.
We live in a country with a lot of advantages, and our citizenry is sometimes regarded as pampered and soft. Then something like Boston happens, or 9/11, or Oklahoma City, and we see America and Americans at their finest. That is the lone consolation of attacks like Boston’s: seeing our country pick itself up out of the rubble and get to work trying to save lives — and for some, to start hunting for the perpetrators of this senseless act.
The resilience of Americans is wonderful, but it’s been acquired in a hard school.
So what’s the answer? More security at events? It goes without saying that the Boston Marathon will never be the same event it was before Monday afternoon around 3 p.m., just as air travel forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001. Organizers of other road races, such as our own Marine Corps Marathon, will re-evaluate their own security measures. So will team owners and facility managers.
We’ve gotten more or less accustomed to bag searches and security wandings at the airport, at arenas and stadiums, even at schools — too accustomed, perhaps. The violations of our personal space are so ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget a time when they simply didn’t happen. But now, at least for a time, they again will be reminders of the world we live in, of who and what is lurking out there, waiting to strike. There will be less grumbling in line at the airport and at the turnstile. It won’t last, but we’ll be more vigilant. For awhile.
For some sports fans, turnstiles will no longer be an appealing option. Many already are choosing the comfort of their living rooms and high-definition televisions over the time and money necessary to attend events. Will this drive more people into their basements? Will we, as a society, continue to turn inward, choosing communication with strangers via Twitter over talking to fellow fans in neighboring seats?
So many communities aren’t communities any longer; they are fragmented by social or political or economic differences. Sports communities remain. College fans gather at local watering holes to watch games with their fellow alums. NFL season ticket holders become fast friends with the fans in the seats around them, even if they meet just eight Sundays a year. And the running community is one of the strongest. Runners often run alone, but they have shared experiences, and they’re incredibly supportive of each other.
Even people on opposing sides can find common ground at sporting events. Cardinals fans will be thrown together with Nats fans next week at Nationals Park. They’ll root for different outcomes, but they’ll have a love of baseball in common. When Pittsburgh comes to Verizon Center, I always see couples walking hand in hand on F Street, one in a Penguins jersey, the other in a Caps jersey. They love hockey, just not the same hockey team. Even the most shy among us can strike up a conversation based on a jersey.
Those experiences are what will be lost if spectators decide to avoid sporting events, and that’s a shame. We have very few communities to spare these days.
For m ore by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/