In the wake of Monday's tragic attack on the Boston Marathon, Bostonians are now beginning the difficult process of returning to their daily routines. In a city where sports fandom often teeters on the verge of insanity, that process will undoubtedly include a return to passionately rooting for Boston's pro teams.
Though sports may seem inconsequential when juxtaposed with such horrendous carnage and death, they can also serve as an effective way to combat grief, rallying people around one singular, local ideal. And in doing so, they can help to rebuild shattered communities and soothe the raw emotional wounds left over from major tragedies.
"We know, especially in the wake of Monday's events, that sports aren't necessarily life; they're just a part of life," says New England Sports Network's Mike Cole. "But in a town like Boston, it's a substantial part of life."
Arguably no American city lives and breathes its pro teams in the way Boston does. The city suffered through decades of baseball futility, and erupted with joy once the Red Sox finally, after three quarters of a century, won a World Series, and then another. The city has similarly swung from agony to revelry on the whims of its other pro teams, the Bruins, Patriots, and Celtics. It's a manic-depressive fandom that unites the city and colors its daily life.
The vast extent of Bostonians' sports fandom manifests itself in a few visual ways: The city's most iconic landmark, for instance, is a giant Citgo sign, not because there's anything remarkable about the sign itself, but because of its indelible link to Fenway Park. Boston has even been labeled the worst-dressed city in America because of how frequently you can spot people donning team-specific sportswear.
And so Bostonians are turning to their beloved sports to cope in the wake of Monday's attack. The cross-cultural appeal of sports makes it an ideal conduit for soothing pain across entire communities. Consider the way New Yorkers — and the nation as a whole — rallied together around baseball after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the first post-9/11 game back in New York, fans struck up a chant of "USA, USA," and Mets catcher Mike Piazza belted a memorable game-winning home run, sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.
"It was a sign of normalcy returning to America," Piazza later said of that game.
In Boston, that same healing process is already underway.
Numerous Red Sox players took to social media Monday, offering prayers and material support, and affirming their love for and pride in the city. And on Tuesday, the team's official Twitter handle posted a picture of the players gathered around a banner proclaiming Boston's strength. The team also announced that a special jersey, bearing Boston's area code and the message "Boston Strong," would hang in the team clubhouse Tuesday night in Cleveland, where the Red Sox are playing.
"We can give them something other than news to watch for a couple hours and hopefully make people forget for a couple hours," Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester told The Associated Press, of his hopes to provide some respite for Bostonians from the tragedy.
On Tuesday, the lead sports page of the Chicago Tribune featured a touching tribute to Boston's teams that ended by saying, "Hang in there, Boston." On the other side of the country, Oakland A's fans revised a popular cheer one night earlier, chanting, "Let's go Boston," during their team's game.
Even the hated rival New York Yankees have offered condolences to Boston, displaying both teams' logos on the facade of Yankee Stadium before Tuesday's game in the Bronx along with the message "United We Stand." The team also announced they'd play Fenway staple "Sweet Caroline" during the game in tribute to Boston.
On Wednesday, the Bruins will play the first pro game held in Boston since Monday's attacks. On Friday the Red Sox will return to town, which promises to be a particularly poignant moment for a healing Beantown. While the hockey and basketball seasons are just winding down, the baseball season is just getting started. And as Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci notes, baseball teams, with their near-daily games, have a much more direct link to people's day-to-day lives.
Baseball, which, unlike any other sport, is there for us virtually every day, is entwined with what is the comfort and curse of that daily challenge. However small, however unimportant baseball seems today, the Red Sox remain a part of daily life in Boston. These Red Sox, win or lose, now play for a broken city. Whatever comfort or distraction they provide in the best of times assumes a different weight in these worst of times. [Sports Illustrated]
It will be a long time before Bostonians truly feel like they've returned to their normal lives. Boston's sports teams, and specifically the pride they instill in the community, will undoubtedly play an important role in the healing process.