SBJ/October 22 - 28, 2001/Opinion

Fly the flag and repeat: It’s OK to cheer again

Poor Barry Bonds. He breaks the single-season home run record, and it hardly registers a blip on the screen.

What a difference from the coast-to-coast euphoria that greeted Mark McGwire three years ago. He wasn't just the big sports story, he was the lead news story. He deserved the accolades. He performed like a home run champ both on and off the field.

Bonds is no less deserving, but history intervened in his run for glory. It is a different world than three years ago. Indeed, it is a far different world than just three months ago.

This raises a deeper issue: Is it OK for fans to continue to passionately cheer for their favorite players and teams in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedies? I submit that not only is it all right, but such activities are an essential part of the process of restoring our nation to normalcy, which is a key ingredient in bolstering our resolve to meet future challenges.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appreciated the value of sports. He ensured that baseball continued play during the days of World War II. People needed a diversion as thousands of lives were being lost fighting and defeating tyranny.

While we must be ever vigilant guarding against threats on our own soil and overseas, we all have a stake in getting back to the lives we led before Sept. 11. Backyard barbecues, going to the malls, taking trips, etc. are part and parcel of our routines. Sure, security measures can and should be strengthened, but it is time to go back to the business of everyday life.

More than just a game, sports is very much a part of the fabric of American life. No matter what your job, income or education, you can choose favorite teams and players. Everyone can be involved.

Sports in a real way are part of our shared American experience. Is there anything — short of a national threat — that so fully brings different people together? At the ballpark, racial, religious, ethnic, gender and other labels disappear. We stand together and root for our teams together. It is a vivid illustration of community and democracy.

Sports have been, are and will always be a powerful common denominator.

It is no coincidence that some of the most stirring tributes to the victims and heroes of Sept. 11 have been staged at ballparks and in conjunction with sports events. This is a natural setting to practice patriotism. Have you noticed how loudly and enthusiastically the national anthem has been sung in recent weeks?

People are proudly flying the flag and showing a love of country with an intensity we haven't seen in 60 years. Crime is down. All forms of civic participation are way up. A wonderful spirit of community has taken root as the American people realize that we're all in this together, and working together there is no enemy we cannot defeat.

A rich time of the year is coming up with the four major sports in full bloom, highlighted by the World Series. Let's cherish them all. And let's remember that when we cheer for our players and teams, we are also cheering for something much bigger. We're showing the world that the celebration of pluralism, freedom and the American way of life continues in packed arenas, ballparks and stadiums all across this great land.

Jim Eskin is a public affairs strategist in San Antonio.

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