To some degree, most of us are fascinated by violence. Contact sports, horror movies and the agony of defeat all garner our attention for various reasons. Paired with the spectacle of violence, however, is a fascination with those who perpetrate the most violent of acts (see Mindy Kaling’s interest in serial killers). Unfortunately, infamous is still famous.
Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden remain larger than life figures. We seek to learn what motivates individuals that commit acts we cannot understand. The “Boston Bomber”, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the latest of these “natural born celebrities”. Although the victims are the ones that deserve to be remembered, they rarely remain in the national spotlight. Part of this stems from friends and families of the deceased deserving privacy as they work through their grief. The victims never wanted to be famous and to sift through their lives, even in tribute feels like a gross violation. ‘Rest in Peace’ is what we wish for each of them. So there is an asymmetry. The victims are laid to rest whereas the killers remain in our collective consciousness. Killers remain a mystery because they do not fit our understanding of normal and we cannot predict their behavior. This uncertainty stokes our fear and as a result, these perpetrators have inflicted a form of terror upon us all.
This is where sports enters the conversation. Some argue that sports has no place during these times, that sports are insignificant when we talk of lives lost. They are correct of course. However, sports has a very real place in the process of healing as the spectacle of sports excels at crafting modern mythology. Jesse Owens performance at the 1936 Olympics was a strong rebuke of Hitler’s Aryan superiority. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team renewed national pride for a country battered by economic and political malaise. Jason McElwain, scored 20 points in 4 minutes and taught us that autistic children dream big too.
The Boston Marathon bombing was a clear act of violence and terror. In the days following, the Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox all provided a public forum for remembrance and healing.
David Ortiz, in particular, gave an emotional address proclaiming that, “nobody gonna dictate our freedom”. The same Ortiz that carried the Red Sox and Boston to a World Series Championship. The team provided the city with something to rally around, something to focus on. Everyone wanted to forget about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while leaving those lost to rest. Six months later, the Red Sox gave Boston one way to move forward in a positive light.
Sports can’t bring back those that have been lost. Championships can’t distract us from the immensity of last spring’s events. Teams, however, can rally a city and ensure that its spirit remains strong. Boston Strong.