Rob Hunt: The healing power of sports

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Sep. 9—We all have events in our lives we never forget where we were when it happened.

For my parents' generation, it was the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963. They told me stories about being sent home from school that day much to the surprise of my grandparents, who had no idea what had happened.

That was life before the 24-hour news cycle.

I'll never forget when news broke in 1981 of the attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life. At 10 years old, I remember him being quoted that day in the hospital as saying, "All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

I was such a goofy sports fan, I really thought he meant he'd prefer to be at the national championship game that night at the Spectrum where Indiana University was set to play North Carolina.

Another from my childhood was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger when all the TVs in my high school suddenly turned on so we could follow the coverage.

Adulthood has provided several of these experiences.

I remember holding my one-day-old daughter Sydney while laying on the couch in my wife's hospital room when the verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial was announced, and most recently, I'll never forget sitting at my office desk Jan. 6 when insurrectionists and domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. after being grotesquely misled about the results of the presidential election.

But the most traumatic was when foreign terrorists attacked our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. Anne called to tell me to turn on the news because a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York in an apparent accident. I was still working in restaurants at the time, and I was rarely awake by 9 a.m. when this happened. Just a few minutes after being awakened, the second tower was hit and we all knew this was no accident.

The resulting horror and anger consumed us for weeks, and still resonate to this day.

Watching nonstop footage, hearing the stories of loss and the constant worry of where the next attack might come from wore on all of us. We needed a distraction, not to forget what had happened but to help us cope with our grief and take a mental break.

Sports was there for us.

Whether it was Mark Messier or Tiki Barber leading the many New York athletes who supported the first responders or President George W. Bush throwing a perfect ceremonial strike at Yankee Stadium prior to Game 3 of the World Series, athletes and athletics gave us a brief and much-needed respite from the pain we were all feeling.

Certainly sports paused to grieve along with the rest of us. Nobody felt like playing in the days that followed, least of all the New York Giants and Jets players who practice and play across the Hudson River in full view of the Ground Zero site where recovery operations were active 24 hours a day.

But with baseball and football games returning within a few weeks of the attacks, the country started to get back to normal. For a few hours, we could sit back, watch a ballgame with friends and smile.

As a huge sports fan, I know I was not alone in being grateful for those opportunities to take in a little joy during a period when there was so little to be had.

What sports can do for us and their importance in the fabric of our society is one of the more enduring memories of that time for me.

And with so much negativity in the world now and with unknown future perils always around the corner, we will persevere.

And sports will be there for us again, as it always has been.

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.

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