WTC Museum

The 9/11 Museum opened an exhibit dedicated to sports culture following that tragic day in history. Mark Messier of the New York Rangers wasn’t sure when the best time to resume sports again would happen, but after playing his first game back on the  ice, he knew it was the right time.

I’m not like many kids in my generation. My memory of 9/11 is pretty clear despite only being 3 years old. 

I had just gotten my tonsils taken out, and my mom was taking care of me while I stayed home from preschool that week. I was in the middle of a play date with my friend, sitting at the end of my worn-down wooden kitchen table, coloring.

My mom was talking with her best friend when all of a sudden, I could see that she was really upset, crying nearly to the point of hysteria.

I didn’t understand what was going on, but she had the TV turned on to the news. Reports started coming in that the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan had been struck by a plane. 

Aside from the tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes, the situation created some personal worries. My dad was in New York at the time on business. He wasn’t in the city itself, but his whereabouts were unknown, and we couldn’t get ahold of him because of an overloaded cell phone network.

My mom went into full-on panic-mode.

I remember the look of terror flashing across her face and how, despite her best efforts, she tried to remain composed.

Later that afternoon, we got word from my dad that he and his co-workers hadn’t been in the city, and their trip was canceled. The five of them squished inside a rental car, a small sedan that just happened to still be available, and they started their 19-hour trek home. 

My dad was lucky, unlike thousands of other people that day. Ordinary people that left their loved ones for what seemed like any other day and never came home.

And here we are 18 years later, still remembering and memorializing those that died on that tragic day.

It’s no secret that sports also took a turn after 9/11, and over the years we have lost sight of what sports are at their purest form: a distraction. A form of entertainment. An interruption to our daily life.

Sports helped heal America after Sept. 11. I saw that firsthand after visiting the 9/11 museum last year in Manhattan. They had just opened the “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11” exhibit that summer.

The display reminded visitors of the unification in our country following an event that broke us down to rubble. It took some time, but sports helped much of our country heal because they were a disruption to the outside world.

And isn’t that all sports are at the end of the day? Entertainment and a welcome distraction from the hardships of life we don’t want to think about.

The bill for rent that’s three days late, the extra student loan that had to be taken out to finish up senior year, the family member that was just diagnosed with a terminal illness.

On this day 18 years ago, ESPN changed their regular programming to a straight ABC News feed, along with many other sports radio broadcasts. They had one of the first “Do news and sports really intersect?” debates before most of us were old enough to read and write.

Games (professional and amateur) were canceled across the country with few exceptions.

Many argued that games should have been played that weekend and the days following. 

It would have been a welcome distraction from the harsh reality America was trying so hard to recover from. Others thought it would be insensitive to be thinking about sports and scores following the national tragedy. 

We focus day in and day out on stat lines, records and performances, more often than not forgetting there’s a bigger picture. It’s a revolving door that few of us ever find the exit for, yet everyone has a story to tell beyond what’s printed on the paper in front of them. 

Obviously as a sports journalist, this information is vital to my peers and me. It’s something that helps keep us employed and our industry relevant to the everyday audience interested in this kind of thing. 

But, maybe it’s time for a little self-evaluation. 

And maybe it’s time to take a step back. 

Maybe, it’s time to enjoy sports — again — for what they really are.

Mari Faiello is the assistant sports editor of The Alligator. Follow her on Twitter @faiello_mari or contact her at [email protected].

Mari Faiello is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida's volleyball team. She has previously covered UF men's tennis, UF women's tennis, UF volleyball and UF softball. She has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.