9/11 In Sports Culture

Throughout America, there are many different perceptions of sports, which often lead to an accompaniment of debate over their importance. One household may regard a game of football as barbaric entertainment, while another may recognize the self-expression of the fans, coaches, and players that form a spectacular art display, and many fall in between. However, each of these households could agree that sports have intricate involvement in the realm of popular culture and can often symbolize how Americans think and feel. This was evident on the days preceding the events of September 11, 2001; when millions of Americans paused their lives in order to witness the catastrophic event that resulted in the death of thousands and the pain of millions. Our country, including the sports industry, did not know what this terrible event would mean. But once sports officials like team owners, league chairmen, and general managers made certain decisions such as deciding when to play and how to advertise their teams. America began to follow suit and learn some important meanings to these cruel acts.

For many in the United States, this was the first time their pride had been successfully attacked on such a large scale; Americans did not feel normal. Professional sports organizations and their officials felt abnormal as well, and they decided it was best to take time off and mourn the lives lost and pay respect to those who were hurt in the attack. However, those officials understood the events meant that villains around the world wanted to knock the United States off of their game, but these powerful organizations had the opportunity to say that we will continue our lives stronger than before and provide an acute sense of familiarity into a portion of Americans’ lives with the many examples that sports have to offer.

The first example of this meaning took place on September 21, 2001, when the New York Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves in what would be the first professional sporting event in America since 9/11. This first game was being held in New York, and pre-game activities included honoring the families of those that lost their lives and first responders, and reenacting the raising of the American flags at the site of the collapsed towers. This alone was an example of Americans understanding that the terrorists took a successful shot at us, but when they showed that flag being raised, the message said that eventually the United States will victoriously raise the flag over the evil-doers who ultimately wanted to instill fear in our people. Later that night, the Mets were losing to the Braves by a score of 2–1 late in the game, and emotions were still high following the spectacles before the game and the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch (Roberts). Finally, Mike Piazza of the Mets, who had been playing a poor game, which he credits to his emotions, came up to bat and hit the game-winning two-run homerun. When he hit that homerun, Mets fans were overcome with excitement, and in the stadium 9/11 seemed to have been forgotten just long enough to celebrate this statement that Piazza had just made. Later, he said, “This [9/11] is something we’ll never forget. It’ll scar us, but we’ll move on”, which is exactly what the country began to do (Curry, 2001). Americans clearly understood terrorists wanting to cause disarray in the country, but one baseball game provided visuals of Americans uniting that weren’t so easily visible in places like the news or in political speeches.

Another example of how the sports industry has changed our perception of America comes from Under Armour, a sports apparel company. Under Armour also has a large platform that can reach many citizens, and they ultimately used that platform to appeal to and intensify the patriotic emotions and feelings of Americans. This is evident with their slogan, “I Will. Protect This House.” This slogan is relevant due to the fact that Under Armour has a large number of consumers who see their advertisements, and once the company began to express the idea of “protecting their house” Americans began to view the attacks as not only a physical assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but as a personal attack on their home (Weedon, 2012). The result of millions of Americans feeling like their homes had been attacked created a relationship between many people who did not know one another but knew what each other was feeling and coping with after the harsh events. With these relationships came unity, and again, it is evident that sports organizations could change what 9/11 meant to many households in America.

Overall, to say 9/11 had one meaning would be outrageous and false. The reality is that many citizens in our country share the similar love for sports, which makes the sports world the perfect platform for defining 9/11 in the eyes of America. It is also a substantial platform because sports have the opportunity to provide simple visuals for large crowds that can help us to understand a difficult idea. The idea that the citizens of the U.S. needed to unite and present themselves as a force that could recover from any attack was inevitable. However, that idea is not simply understood, especially when your emotions are telling you to stay home and protect yourself. Sports encouraged just enough normalcies in the lives of fans that there was no longer a desire to stay home in fear, but instead there was a desire to join fellow Americans at the ballpark where everyone could honor the country and unite against the evils of the past. This practice may seem silly or ineffective, but the reality is that popular sports culture provides an interest that is shared by people throughout the United States, and when the country needed a meaning for an event that they couldn’t come up with, the sports industry was immediately involved in helping Americans define what 9/11 meant to them.

Bibliography

Curry, J. (2001, September 22). Not Just Another Day on the Job. New York Times
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Brown, R. S. (2004, November/December). Sport and Healing America. Society
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Weedon, G. (2012). “I Will. Protect this House:” Under Armour, Corporate 
 Nationalism and Post-9/11 Cultural Politics. Sociology of Sport Journal
 29(3), 265–282.