How sports helped a country heal after the events of 9/11

New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza wears the NYPD logo on his helmet as he takes the field in the top of the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves in New York. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

“It was a time where we really needed healing as a country, and sports helped in that way,” sports editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald Brice Cherry said.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. Many people remember where they were and what they were doing when the World Trade Center fell. The infamous event brought an immense sense of patriotism and unity, as sports played a big role in the healing process and brought a lot of people together in a time where the entire nation needed it.

Sports were almost immediately shut down just as the whole country stopped. Cherry compared it to today, with debates on whether athletes should play or not with the COVID-19 pandemic. But after the attack, there was no questioning – it was clear something bigger than sports was happening. However, the ceasing of sporting events was only temporary, and the return of professional sports was very much needed.

“We needed to show the people who did the attack ‘You’re not going to stop us from doing what we do and what we love,’” Baylor senior lecturer Maxey Parrish said. “Sports played the role of helping us get back to our normal lives and helped us make a statement, ‘You’re not gonna win this battle.’”

When sports returned, the sports world showed a tremendous amount of support for New York City and everyone involved in the events. Cherry said there was an unprecedented amount of patriotism at each event, even at the high school level. He said he saw Waco High School play soon after and there were many flags, helmet decals and patriotic music being played. The opposing bands even played together during halftime. This unity was displayed throughout all of sports, especially in the pros.

“It really made you proud to be an American,” Parrish said. “First of all, because there were many patriotic symbols, people flew their flags, there were parades and speeches. It was like the Fourth of July multiplied by 100. It was truly a great outpouring of love for our country.”

The New York Mets and New York Yankees both wore gear from the New York City Police Department and Fire Department, including NYPD caps during the game. There were many mesmerizing moments during the return, none more so than the first pitch before game three of the 2001 World Series.

Former President George W. Bush agreed to throw the first pitch in New York just weeks after the attack. “U-S-A,” chants broke out in the stadium as he approached the pitching mound.

“That was the moment to go out in front of the country and show, ‘We’re still here, we’re strong,’” Cherry said. “There was a lot of pressure on him to go out and throw a strike and send this symbolic message that we’re still here and we’re not going to be defeated, and he went out there and threw a good pitch and it was a big moment.”

There was much support here in the Baylor community as well. Parrish said he remembers a lot of ceremonial things such as tributes to the fire and police departments as well as military flyovers. Cherry said he went to prayer vigils held at the former Baylor football stadium, Floyd Casey Stadium, where many people attended. The support remains today as the Bears will be wearing America-themed helmets and gear during their home opener Saturday against Texas Southern, to pay homage to everyone involved in the tragedy.

“Sports is the place where people of all walks of life can come together and stand side by side,” Cherry said.