Calling the Shots: Superstorm Sandy and the healing power of sports

Aaron Brezel, Assistant Sports Editor

September 11. You do not need to attach a year; all minds point to the destruction of the World Trade Center. In those somber moments, people’s lives were turned upside down and the greatest city in the world was left in shock.

I was too young to remember what was happening as the situation developed. I was just starting kindergarten and I am sure I simply thought we were going home from school early. One memory I do have, though, is watching the New York Mets face off against their longtime rivals, the Atlanta Braves, ten days after the attack. It was the first sporting event in the New York area since the tragedy. While nothing could fix the pain caused by the events, the game, which took place at Shea Stadium, was one of the first attempts to recover and return to normalcy.

For the opening ceremonies, bagpipes filled the air as dozens of first responders marched onto the field; two firefighters, an EMT, and a police officer threw out the “first pitches,” and every player wore hats honoring the selfless men and women who lost their lives trying to save others in the Towers.

Even with the sentimental value of the game, the Mets found themselves down 2-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. With a runner on base, Mike Piazza—the face of the franchise at the time—launched a home run over the left centerfield wall, leading the Mets to victory.

This was much more than a late September win. Sports analysts have tried time and time again to describe what that home run meant for the city, each coming up with different explanations. Most conclude that it offered a distraction, a way for people to forget about the recent sadness. I disagree; no one can or should ever forget. Rather, it was a bandage—a way to alleviate the pain so that we can heal ourselves over time. Even watching the replays over a decade later, I can still feel the emotion coming from the people who had lost so much but, if only for a moment, finally had something to cheer about.

Fast forward to Aug. 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast with storm surges that reached a record 27.8 feet. Hit hardest was one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, New Orleans. The levee system broke and Lake Pontchartrain spilled into the city, costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage.

One of the most iconic landmarks in sports, the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints, did not come out unscathed. While it housed thousands of displaced residents, the stadium, and the Saints, became a beacon of hope for the city. Only one year and $185 million in repairs later, the Superdome reopened to roaring crowds who flocked to the stadium to once again feel pride in their city. The Saints responded in 2010 when quarterback Drew Brees led the team to a Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

These great moments in sport cannot and should not take away from the significance of the context. Sports do not erase people’s problems. However, inning by inning, play by play, sports can help a person heal on his or her own.

And now, just a month ago, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast. This catastrophe affected all of us, but the damage that we experienced in Port Washington pales in comparison to the struggle of people living along the South Shore and Rockaways. Even with advanced warning, Long Island was unprepared, and entire towns were rendered uninhabitable.

The city of Long Beach experienced some of the most devastating damage. In the days following the storm, the city looked like a war zone, and it seemed it would take months to recover.

Things looked especially bleak for the beloved Long Beach High School Marines football team. They had lost their field, their equipment, and could not track down many of their players. They were the fifth seed in the upcoming conference II playoffs, but it looked like they would have to forfeit the game. Despite their own personal struggles, the people of Long Beach rallied around their team as donations flowed in to provide new equipment.

Unfortunately, on Nov. 10, Long Beach fell to fourth seeded Carey, 35-13. However, this loss does not erase the significance of the accomplishment. The people of Long Beach united so that a bunch of kids could play an essentially meaningless game.

That is what makes sports so important in our society. The meaning a simple game can have, to a person, a city, or a country, is unrivaled. Sports can absorb us, for forty-eight minutes, four quarters, or nine innings, take away all of our cares and worries, and unite us under one logo. It is not New York against the world, New Orleans against Hurricane Katrina, or Long Island against Superstorm Sandy. It is your younger brother’s peewee team against his friend’s, coached by their parents as they simply de-stress from everyday life.