We are all one tribe.
You’ll probably want to file this under, “Things I’ll See Right About The Time Skating Becomes Popular In Hell.” During the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, the PA system started playing “Sweet Caroline.” This would be what you’d expect- at Fenway Park. That fans hearing it, enthusiastically singing along, in New York could mean only one of two things:
1. A hole had been torn in the space-time continuum, or
2. Yankees fans were unified in dropping their customary rabid tribalism to show support for a city ripped asunder by the Boston Marathon bombing.
Option #1 may have, under different circumstances, been an accurate explanation. To the credit of Yankees fans (and millions of Americans), they recognized what often gets lost in the Sturm und Drang surrounding sports rivalries. After the heartache of 9/11, New Yorkers understand that, regardless of the teams we rabidly support, we’re all one tribe. When you strip away the artifice, we all have a stake in what happened in Boston. We’re all Bostonians; we’re all Americans.
Sports too often divide and separate cities (in some cases, people within cities). Occasionally, those divisions can be harmful, even violent. That’s part of what we risk when athletic competition combines with passion. Such passionate allegiance can provide a fan an identity within a subculture, but it can also create some very real and immediate risks. Anyone who’s ever stood on the terraces at a Manchester United/Chelsea match as I have can attest to the sometimes clear and present danger of such ingrained tribalism.
It’s sad that it took a heinous act of cowardice and indiscriminate terror to remind us that we’re all part of the same tribe. Sometimes, unspeakable tragedy shows us there are times when our shared citizenship is far more important than anything else.
The good news is that Boston will recover and thrive, as New York did after 9/11. Sports will play an important role in that recovery because of the ability of athletic competition to distract and soothe. The purity of sport lies in the clarity and precision demonstrated on the field of play, something often lacking in our day to day lives.
In time, the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry will once again be what it’s always been- passionate, intense, and very often irrational. Underneath the rivalry, though, will be a connection not easily erased. Boston was there for New York after 9/11, and New York is now returning the consideration and compassion. Shared suffering and loss won’t diminish the long-running rivalries between Boston and New York, but it will certainly make those rivalries more poignant.
There’s a lesson for sports fans here in the Pacific Northwest. Whether you live in Portland and hate all things Seattle, or vice versa, we’re members of the same tribe. Times of crisis and tragedy reveal what we’re made of and remind us that we’re all in this together.
Tough times make for tough people, and we’ve seen that in Boston over the past week. We saw the same thing in New York after 9/11. Americans are tough people; we pull together when circumstances demand it. If anything good can emerge from unspeakable tragedy, it’s the recognition that we’re in this together and we have a responsibility to one another.
We’re survivors. Now more than ever.
Jack Cluth is on Twitter. Follow him at @yuppieskum