When I was a freshman in college, a high school friend died in an auto
accident the first night of my spring break. When I returned to campus a week
later, there was a letter from him in my mailbox, written two days before the
accident, asking when I would be coming back to our hometown during the break and when we could get together.
I was reminded of that letter a couple of days ago when I went to the mailbox
and pulled out the latest issues of Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazine.
While the magazines were not letters from a dead friend, they were
correspondence from what seemed like a prior sports life. Printed before
Tuesday's attacks, both magazines reported on a life that seems so distant as
to have never existed.
"Fresno?" the Sports Illustrated cover headline asked. "Yep. Unheralded
Fresno State is knocking off college football's big boys."
Oh, yes. That's right. One week after upsetting Oregon State, Fresno State
whipped Wisconsin. It was the No.1 topic in college football. How could I forget?
"American Revolution," read the headline of an inside story on the Williams
sisters' performance at the U.S. Open. Accompanying the story was a photo of
Venus and Serena wearing nothing but American flags.
Oh, yes. That's right. Last week, Venus and Serena became the first sisters
in more than a century to play each other in a Grand Slam final. That was
very important back then, when fans' requisite chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"
still rang hollow and Americans could drape themselves in the Stars and
Stripes while wearing smiles instead of choking back tears.
"Barry ... Wants It All," read the cover of ESPN magazine, with a photo of
a very determined Barry Bonds. "Exclusive: In the gym with Michael Jordan,"
teased the headline in the top left hand corner.
Oh, yes. That's right. Last Sunday, Bonds hit three home runs in one game to
move past Roger Maris' old mark and seven behind Mark McGwire's record. Last
Monday night, Jordan all but came out and announced that he was ending his
retirement. I read about it on ESPN.com late Monday night, just after I
finished writing a piece on why I was rooting against Bonds to break McGwire's record.
The Jordan story was the last news report I read before going to bed. The
last news story I read before my wife woke me with a call from the airport to
tell me about the attacks. The last story before ...
That's how we see things now, isn't it? Life before and life after? And isn't
this the question we're all asking ourselves now: Will our lives "after" ever
be like they were "before"?
We're supposed to take the first steps toward answering that question Monday as we attempt a return to normal life. President Bush called for a "Back to
Work" day. The stock exchanges reopen. New York Mayor Giuliani is telling tourists to
visit New York as usual, that they may even be able to get tickets to "The
Producers." And the sports world returns when baseball resumes its schedule Monday night.
Each week, Hank Williams Jr. asks us, "Are you ready for some football?" Monday night, the question is, "Are you ready for some baseball?" And for the first time in my life, my answer is, "I don't know."
Like many other columnists, I've written that we need to resume sports after
an appropriate mourning period, maintaining that our games will help us heal.
I definitely believe that, but I don't know how I'll feel when I return to a stadium.
Am I ready to see a game? Am I ready to step inside, with perhaps 45,000
others, what would have to be considered an obvious target should there be
more attacks? Am I ready to report on a game as if it matters, while they
search for bodies? Will our games offer healing or just an escape? And if
it's the latter, is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn't it be healthier
for our nation to watch games rather than repeated viewings of those planes
crashing into the World Trade Center? Or should we be forced to keep our eyes
on the screen, to share the pain and the horror as this country finally
learns what it means to suffer civilian war casualties as so many other countries have?
|Even Barry Bonds' pursuit of one of baseball's greatest records won't distract us long enough.|
I don't know. I'm paid to provide firm opinions and comedy, to make readers
laugh or take a side. Nearly a week after the attacks -- six days into our lives "after" -- I can't do either.
It's important to note that tonight's baseball games aren't the first
sporting events since the attacks. While the professional and major college
teams quite rightly shut down, high school and youth leagues continued
playing, which also seemed the right thing to do. I stopped by a high school
football game Friday night and was reassured to find that it seemed much like
every other high school game I've attended. The cheerleaders danced and asked
if we had spirit, the marching bands played "On, Wisconsin," and the boys
stood around talking about the girls while the girls stood around talking
about the boys.
Seeing that made me feel better. And my head tells me that in time we will
return enough to normalcy that we will enjoy and care a great deal about our
other sports again, perhaps even soon enough that we will argue over whether
Bonds should break McGwire's record or Jordan should return to the basketball
court or whether Fresno State should be ranked in the Top 10.
At least, that's what my head tells me. My heart still isn't certain how to
feel about sports, nor much of anything else for that matter.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
||Each week, Hank Williams Jr. asks
us, 'Are you ready for some football?' Tonight,
the question is, 'Are you ready for some
baseball?' And for the first time in my life, my
answer is, 'I don't know.'