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Barry Crimmins

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Friendly Rivalry Thursday, December 20, 2001

by Barry Crimmins

Last week we were reminded that sports are entertainment and diversion, not life and death. Now that the smoke is clearing and the dust is settling, our nation returns to athletics to take our mind off things. But if sports teams and fans don't adjust, just a little, our new found sense of proportion will be lost.

On Tuesday, September 11, baseball fans in Boston and New York woke up feeling their teams were a million miles apart. With six straight September wins over their archrivals, the Yankees had dashed the Red Sox pennant hopes. Fans in both cities had spent the previous two weekends shouting insults about the opposing team's skills, supporters and municipalities. At dawn Boston and New York were separated by 13 games. By 9:15AM the true proximity of the two cities was made drastically clear. By then we knew a jetliner, fueled for the West Coast, could leave Boston's Logan Airport and arrive in Manhattan with enough fuel to destroy a 110 story superstructure and massacre thousands of innocents in the process.

Inside those buildings on the tip of Manhattan and at the Pentagon in Washington and in another jet that crashed in Pennsylvania, were people who lost lives that had once been brightened by the diversion of athletic competition. Any team you can name lost fans that day.

For nearly a week we had our national wind knocked from us. At first we didn't even know if we could get up . Then slowly, like a player who has suffered a particularly hard blow on the field, we got to one knee. Finally, with the support of our fellow Americans and kindhearted people worldwide, we stood again and took our first wobbly steps.

The return of sports will help us regain our stride. Now that we have paid such an awful price for perspective, let's not squander it. When we return to the ballpark, let's welcome and get to know fans who happen to root for team's in the other jerseys. Let's remember that any one of us, regardless of sporting loyalty, could someday have their life end in an insane and unfair instant. Let's make sure that the precious moments of our lives we spend at ballparks are enjoyable. Naturally we'll still root hard for our teams and growl a bit when things don't go our way. But mostly we must return to the days when sportsmanship was an essential element of athletic endeavors.

Ballparks are places where children and grandparents should feel safe and comfortable. Heavy alcohol consumption and liberal use of profanity, often shouted in unison by thousands of people, do not show proper respect to our fellow fans. The teams need to crack down on serving inebriated people more alcohol. All of us need to pay closer attention to our language. If someone is profane, we should respectfully request they tone it down. If the problem persists, then security personnel need to step, not stomp, in.

Another sure way to improve the atmosphere at sporting events would be to allow the arena's tone to be set by the spectators and not the sound booth. Now would be a wonderful time for teams to turn off the blaring and often insulting music and percussion that infests the modern sports arena. This cacophony prohibits us from making new friends at games because it precludes any possibility of conversation. It also is rather difficult to explain the game to a young fan while competing with a menacing wall of sound that's promising, "WE WILL, WE WILL, ROCK YOU!!"

Pro franchises and college teams must stop electronically provoking bad sportsmanship. Never again should a pitcher have to leave the mound to the strains of "Hit the Road, Jack." Never again should a visiting player have the reality of a tough defeat emphasized by a pep band playing "Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey goodbye" In both instances noble foes should be given their due, which is a polite round of applause.

The cause of sportsmanship would immediately and immensely benefit if network and local TV producers simply decided that a highlight should consist of a great play or an act of sportsmanship and not an immodest, in-your-face attempt to show up an opponent. A few months of that broadcast rule of thumb would send a message that would have positive ramifications from the playing field to the cheap seats and far beyond.

Oafish behavior exacerbated by organized taunting diminishes what should be a pleasant afternoon or evening at a game. Life has too much unavoidable acrimony and hatred for us to allow it follow us to the ballpark. Now that we are returning to sporting events, we should take the opportunity to befriend our fellow fans and learn, the easy way, that Boston isn't really so far away.

Copyright 2001 Barry Crimmins, all rights reserved