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Do You Remember When The Games Stopped? Lessons Learned From 9-11

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Kevin Ray reflects on the anniversary of the attacks on 9-11 and the importance of sports in our country.

BRONX, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: The American Flag flies at half staff near the scoreboard during the moment of silence at 9:11 p.m. at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: The American Flag flies at half staff near the scoreboard during the moment of silence at 9:11 p.m. at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It's been almost a week since the anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Most of us observed the non-official holiday in our own special way. We all have many memories about the attacks and how it impacted our lives. The memory of where you were when you first heard the news and what your first thoughts were. The anxiety that overcame all of us, wondering what the fate our country would be because, let's face it, we all felt a sense of vulnerability that we'd never experienced before.

After a few days, it was clear that things weren't getting back to normal anytime soon.

As a member of the KTAR sports department at the time, I remember thinking, "What does all of this mean for sports in general?" Of course, there were so many bigger issues that were being dealt with, but being in that field, it was an obvious thought and question. As a sports-loving society, we became so comfortable in always knowing our sports were going to be there. Forget comfort foods; if we Americans have our sports, we can deal with anything.

I never thought I'd see in my lifetime not only a day, but several days where major sporting events were cancelled or postponed due to anything other than the weather. Considering the event took place during one of the busiest times of the year for sports, it made it all the more strange. You had the baseball season and pennant races winding down, the college football season had been underway and of course the NFL had just gotten started, as well, not to mention NASCAR and the PGA tour that were all going on.

When you work in the sports department in a major market, you're constantly covering something and for the first time in my life, there was nothing to cover. It was a very strange and odd feeling I remember. The events we'd become so accustomed to following, reporting on and talking about suddenly were not being played. I remember watching and reading the announcements as they came down one after another of how each league or sport was going to handle the situation.

So here we were, this great nation, this powerful giant that we all thought was invincible and unbreakable and a lot of that thinking had to do with sports, in my mind. For Americans sports have always been not only an outlet but also a sounding board and for so many, it was part of their identity, like wearing your favorite team's hat or sweatshirt or flying your alma mater's flag outside your house. Viewing parties to watch the next big sports event were the norm for us Americans. It didn't matter how bad your day or week was as long as you had the games to go home to or a stadium to sit in everything else was okay.

Now these bastards have not only taken our sense of security and the lives of thousands of innocent people, but you've taken our games, as well? I must admit it was strange, eerie and sad to see the empty stadiums and sporting venues that we saw through the continued coverage of the aftermath of 9-11. As if our country weren't in enough chaos, now we didn't know what's going to happen to our sports, our teams. We had schedules that had all been memorized so we knew when and where to tune and who we were going to see. Now that was gone, too.

I think a lot of us wondered if entire seasons would be cancelled. It was an obvious thought and question.

Were the attacks over with? Will we be hit again somewhere else? What if they target sports stadiums? These are the questions that I had going through my mind and I know I wasn't alone. Suddenly our perspective of just how important sports were to us took a very different feel.

Major League Baseball initially announced they'd postpone games for one day, then it turned into three and eventually it was five days before the games resumed on September 17.

While the nation mourned the loss of the innocent people who were killed and our leaders raced to bring some sense of order to the insecurity we all felt, there was also another emotion that began to rise to the surface. It was anger, raw uninhibited anger that something had been taken from us and we wanted it back. It was like a slap in the face as one American after another had their own wakeup call, with each ultimately coming to the same conclusion and that was, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."

Yes, the terrorists had taken a sense of our security, but by god they weren't going to take our pride our strength and above all they weren't going to rob us of our sense of normalcy. It was then that even the leaders of the country said it was time to dust ourselves off and get back to doing what we do and, above all, be Americans. Part of that normalcy was the games and sporting events that we so cherished. It was time to start playing again, cheering again.

While the work continued in New York and Washington on the cleanup and the government strategized about their plans to go after those who inflicted this damage on our country, the games began once again. What we knew but for many had to be reminded of is how cathartic the games and events were for us as a country. In HBO's documentary Nine Innings from Ground Zero, former NY Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, "The only two things that got my mind off it at any period of time in the fall of 2001 were baseball and my son's football games."

As the games resumed and the fans returned to the stadiums and sports bars and back in front of their TVs to watch and cheer, that sense of structure and normalcy was also beginning to return. Along with the normalcy, though, something else had returned and that was chest swelling pride and, more importantly, perspective. What we learned was that yes, the games were important to us and we loved having them to cheer for and be a part of, but we also realized that they weren't life and death. You didn't view the guy wearing the opposing teams jersey with the same indignation that you had in the past because after all he was an American above all else.

It was that kind of symbolic American pride that I remember most about the days, weeks, months and even for a few years after 9-11, but a great deal of that has once again gone away. So, as you enter the stadiums this weekend or your kids soccer game or flag football game, just keep it all in perspective. We are a competitive sports-playing, sports-loving society and passionate about our teams, but above all else remember we're all cheering for the same team in the end and that is team America.