At approximately 10 a.m. on September 11th, 2011, myself and a friend of mine were headed for Gym class at Pocono Mountain Intermediate School-North. We were in eighth grade, an innocent, ignorant 13 years old at that time with nothing more than girls and crappy music on our minds.
A girl in our class went rushing by, tears in her eyes and panic in her step. A nearby student told us, “A plane hit the Twin Towers and her uncle works there.”
We shrugged our shoulders and laughed. How stupid could someone be to fly into such a large building? If only we had known. Our school chose not to inform us of what had happened that morning, and televisions were banned from being turned on.
The events of that tragic day became more real when I got home from school. There in the doorway waited my parents with the type of fear I have only seen one other time in my life. They wrapped me in their arms and hugged me tight. Everything still made little sense to me. Why would someone attack us? Being that innocent, ignorant child, I was of the understanding that everyone loved the United States of America in the way everyone loved the Yankees, Michael Jordan and pizza.
Reality bitch slapped me—and most of America—in the cruelest of ways.
My life as an innocent, ignorant child was over. Politics, war and evil suddenly came to the forefront, and that was something I was—and never will be—ready for. There was nothing to escape it. Every station played the images over and over and over again. Smoke billowing from the towers, people with no escape and then…a white darkness. Finding solace outdoors was impossible. Living in a neighborhood full of kids, the streets were empty. Quiet.
Our skateboards clattered and echoed off the pavement. Laughter was shared any time our feet missed its landing place on the board—a common place with our meager skills—but we couldn’t fight what we knew was happening—the world was changing right before our very eyes.
It didn’t change for days. The tragic news still littered the cable airwaves and only so much Spongebob would do for a kid who always chose SportsCenter over everything.
The healing began, but the pain felt by a transplanted New York boy was nothing to the ones who lost loved ones on that terrible day. The world did what it could. From fundraisers to visits by some of New York’s finest athletes, such as John Franco, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams, Kerry Collins and Vinny Testaverde, to firehouses, police departments and victims, the reason we say “I love New York!” became evident in the acts of kindness displayed by all New Yorkers big and small.
Two weeks later, life had begun to return and sports took the foreground. Liza Minnelli’s unbearable and unforgettable performance of “New York, New York.” A jampacked Arrowhead Stadium on its feet in applause for the Giants and, most importantly, the city of New York. The New York Yankees and Mets engulfed in respective pennant races. Though the papers continued to dish out heartbreaking news surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93, a flip to the back page created a sigh of relief, excitement and joy for sports.
We were proud to be American. Proud to be watching American sports. And proud to belt the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the top of our lungs no matter how bad we sounded; even prouder to sing along with Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.”
As we struggled to grasp all that had happened while trying our best to support a president many did not believe in and a war we were unsure why we were involved in, sports, more so than any TV fundraiser or inspiring speech from George W. Bush, uplifted us. It delivered us and helped to heal all of us from the Hell we had witnessed on that unforgettable day.
For New York, that was even more so the reality. Every victory for the Yankees and Mets became a victory in our hearts; a hurdle leaped and overcome. The 2001 World Series—quite possibly one of the greatest Series ever played—meant far more to New Yorkers than just another classic World Series featuring the beloved Yankees. There were tributes, pride, triumph and disappointment intertwined with war and threats of more terrorism. But the World Series took center focus; it demanded our attention because we needed something other than bad news less than two month removed from one of the greatest tragedies in American history.
Sports became a wonderful metaphor for the city of New York. Every game had some hidden meaning of hope and perseverance. None were more perfect than Derek Jeter’s at bat in Game 4 of a 3-3 tie in the 10th inning. What ensued was a five-minute battle between Jeter and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Byung Hyun-Kim, and culminated in an opposite field home run on a 3-2 pitch that ignited the crowd and all of New York. The Yankees lost the World Series in seven games, but that night defined the pestering battle going on inside many of us and piqued our optimism as we went on with our lives.
In the days and months and years and decades since the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and our country’s people, the way we’ve viewed sports has not changed. Before September 11th, sports had always been a place to leave behind a day’s stress and enjoy the joy for competition we all have burning inside of us. But on that day we will all certainly never forget, sports became something more and I’m thankful that we all had sports to escape to and feel happy again—if only for a few hours.