On May 1, people all over America were elated for the success of their favorite team. Fans at the Phillies-Mets game in Philadelphia cheered and chanted; some in New York climbed lampposts and sprayed champagne over a crowd of riotous supporters. People were seen sporting festive face paint and they wore their colors with pride.
The team, however, was not one of professional sports, but rather the military of the United States of America. Osama bin Laden was dead, and citizens of this country released 10 years of frustration in one wild night of celebration.
I had mixed feelings about the death of arguably the single, most hated man in our nation’s history. I didn’t celebrate his death, as death isn’t an event to celebrate no matter what the circumstances, but I was certainly relieved that bin Laden could no longer inflict pain or suffering on anyone else.
Upon reflection, I realized the manhunt for the now-slain leader of al-Qaida had been a part of my life since the fifth grade when the World Trade Centers smoldered in ruin on Sept. 11. Holding this thought in mind, it was hardly surprising that so many people my age were throwing up Facebook statuses gleefully announcing bin Laden’s demise, how much he deserved to die and how proud they were of our nation for finally bringing him to justice in the most ultimate way.
At Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, fans were seen checking their cell phones in disbelief before chants of “U-S-A” quietly began to build into a roar that many players on both teams said was emotionally stirring. To these fans, and to the New Yorkers who partied at Ground Zero Sunday night as though it were bin Laden’s grave, this was a victory.
But how can death, no matter how justified both legally and ethically, be considered a victory? This is not sports, people. As one ESPN analyst put it, how can you find a final score in matters of life and death? The nation-wide reaction of joy, specifically within Citizens Bank Park, reveals a deep-seeded problem in the world of American athletics: No matter what valuable lessons in character and teamwork a person learns on the field, real life is rarely as black and white as sports.
Coaches and vehement parents will be quick to tell anyone who will listen that participating in sports builds character, teamwork and important skills for succeeding in life. This is certainly true. But never again, after stepping off the field for the last time, will a player be able to solve a problem by scoring more points than whoever he is competing against. For that matter, most people don’t spend their lives competing against one defined foe but toward the completion of a task.
In a construction site, who exactly is competing for what and against whom? An accountant doesn’t score points by bettering his fellow accountant’s calculations. Life just isn’t as cut and dry as what a scoreboard reads at the end of the night, and applying a winner-take-all attitude to life outside of sports can be foolhardy and potentially disastrous to a person’s career and personal life.
We’ve all had that hyper-competitive friend before: the one who has to measure everything in wins and losses. Chances are you remember how quickly that gets obnoxious.
Now apply this to an issue as galvanizing and volatile as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the result is what was witnessed and recorded last Sunday: a celebration of death that many considered a “victory.”
Never has there been so hollow a victory, and never have I been as saddened to see sports used as an expression of poor taste.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall hit on a note of truth amidst his controversial and slightly offensive Tweets regarding the killing: “What kind of person celebrates death? I just encourage you to think.”
I implore the sports community to act as leaders of their fan bases and show the world that Americans are not people who celebrate death, but think.
Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.