On Sports and Terrorism

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I’ve written this column before, at least a version of it. And I’ll surely write it again. Whether it’s Boston in 2013, Paris in 2015, or [to be determined] in 2016, sporting events are in the crosshairs of terrorists. ISIS and its murderous ilk are targeting a way of life — a way of thinking, really — and seek the most carnage and the most attention they can acquire on a single calendar date. The easiest means to such a barbarous end: Kill as many people as possible with a single blow (or coordinated blows, as occurred last Friday in France).

Nothing says freedom like the way free people choose to spend their free time. And millions upon millions of free people the world over choose to spend their free time together at sporting events. Or theatres. Or concert halls. Or restaurants. This is the soft underbelly of western civilization in the eyes of mass murderers. And as long as a way of life — a way of thinking — remains the mortal enemy, there will be carnage where people gather to share free time.

Every time I attend a Tiger basketball game at FedExForum, I’m “wanded.” (What a terribly misnamed device, as if there’s any magic in a tool that determines if a human being is packing heat.) And I go through the media entrance. (Save the jokes on journalists and terror.) This is a price. It’s a price we pay for the Munich Olympics of 1972, the Atlanta Games of 1996, the 2013 Boston Marathon. Metal detectors and such are the closest we can come to a magic force field, one that protects innocent — free — spectators from the type of killer who cares not about their name, background, family, or religion ... only that they’re free to gather with a crowd. An easy, unknowing target.

We’ve lived this way for the better part of four decades. A film on a terrorist attack at the Super Bowl (Black Sunday) was released in 1977, for crying out loud. I’ve long considered an NFL stadium the most obvious venue for an actual attack, whether it’s the Super Bowl or any of 31 venues on a random weekend in November. As the upcoming film, Concussion, proclaims, the National Football League “owns a day of the week.” So many people, so much attention (and on television!), so much freedom.

But this is the trick: We must continue to gather. We must continue to fill our free hours with the places, people, teams, and events that give us joy. We must continue to run marathons, attend rock shows, try that new Thai restaurant getting rave reviews. These are the most human moments of our lives, for they are not required but rather sought. And those who attend these events with us help make them the moments we’ll remember when we return to the chores of life. “Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd.”

Remember that baseball game played in Baltimore last April with no fans in the stands? With the city tense over the death of a black man in police custody, Major League Baseball chose to play a scheduled game without so much as bothering to “wand” a single fan entering the stadium. That game between the Orioles and White Sox became the most ludicrous excuse for a “sporting event” in American history. For it’s the people — the fans — who make such an event, not the teams on the field.

I hurt for the lives lost last week in Paris. And I dread writing this column again, as I certainly will. But the only way I know to contribute in the “war on terrorism,” is to encourage the continued act of freedom that is attending sporting events. It may take generations, and it may be after we decide football itself is barbarous, but I’m convinced tolerance, compassion, and progress will prevail. And human beings will be gathering in large crowds to see it just so.

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