Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can't Forget

This Sunday was the tenth anniversary of September 11 - a nearly inescapable fact for the majority of the week leading up to Sunday and certainly unavoidable during the day.  It was the opening Sunday of the NFL season, and featured 15 MLB games, and every single one of them paid tribute in some way to the victims of 9/11.  Teams unfurled huge American flags, singers belted bone-chilling renditions of the National Anthem, and nearly every athlete who picked up a ball on Sunday did so while wearing a ribbon honoring those who died ten years ago.  The theme of the day seemed to be: Never Forget.

Did anyone really think we had?

Many turned to sports after 9/11 to forget, and I found myself tuning in to football and baseball so I wouldn't have to deal with the flood of memories.  I didn't want to watch names being read, or footage of the Twin Towers burning and collapsing, or see photos of people covered in ash.  It's not that I want to forget - I just didn't want to have to re-live it.  Of course, it was impossible to avoid, and by the third time I heard the National Anthem on Sunday night, I had remembered it all.

I'm not here to tell you how to pay tribute to those that died on 9/11 - mourning is private, and complex, and ambiguous and all of those feelings are multiplied given that we have reached a milestone year and that the perpetrator of the attacks met his demise earlier this year.

We all experienced the day differently. I had just turned 13 and was in my first week of eighth grade when I learned my city had been attacked.  I drove home with my father, listening to 1010 WINS on the radio and still remember turning east on 116 Street and staring down at the cloud of smoke hovering over lower Manhattan.  Sports were the furthest thing from my mind, and remained so for most of that year.  I don't remember the first Mets game after 9/11, barely remember the first Giants game after the attacks, but I still have vivid memories of the day I saw Ground Zero for the first time, or the first time I spied the altered New York skyline while driving back to Manhattan.

Sunday had some touching tributes, and some notable missteps.  I thought the NFL did a decent job of reminding us that there are things more important than sports, though I couldn't quite understand what marketing genius decided to run the Budweiser ad featuring the horses bowing to Ground Zero, or the stupid sappy Verizon ad with kids singing.  And of course, baseball managed to botch the entire event by scheduling the Yankees on the West Coast and forcing the Mets to wear the "official" MLB memorial hats as opposed to the NYPD/FDNY/PANY hats that become so ubiquitous after 9/11.

Look, letting the Mets wear the hats would not have accomplished much. It wouldn't bring global terrorism to its knees or reunite a country that is bitterly bipartisan.  It certainly wouldn't have reminded any absent minded New Yorkers about the attacks.  We are reminded every day by having our bags randomly searched on the subway, or by the pangs we get walk past a firehouse with a plaque or mural, or the quick fear we get when a siren wails in the distance.  We remember every time a service member gets a standing ovation at a game, or when we get wanded and patted down at security outside CitiField, or when we stare at the neon skyline above the scoreboard and see the Twin Towers replaced by a ribbon.

If the Mets had worn those hats, it would not have prevented us from forgetting.  Rather, it would have showed that the players understood what the day meant, and how the Mets gave everyone a little bit of normalcy after watching our city burn for weeks on end. It would have showed that the players get it, that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they were doing a little something to honor the real heroes in this world.  It would have shown that they give a damn, which is all we ask for sometimes as fans.

Instead, someone from MLB snatched the hat off of David Wright's head, and Joe Torre sent a stupid letter out warning of "prohibitive fines" if any players wore unauthorized apparel.  It seemed so phony to have pregame ceremonies and yet not allow the players to pay tribute to the tragedy in their own way.  It was as if baseball were saying: "Sure, we remember your pain.  Buy these official hats to sooth it!  But don't you dare have any individuality - or else!"

I don't blame the players for not breaking the rules and doing it anyway. Honestly, it was enough of a gesture that they wanted to do it in the first place.  But I do blame baseball for telling people how they are allowed to mourn and how they are allowed to remember.  9/11 wasn't "America's day," in the sense that Memorial Day is about mourning as a nation.  It was New York's day, it was Washington DC's day, it was Pennsylvania's day, it was some person out in Wisconsin and some person down in Florida and some person up in Maine all realizing that the world can be a terrifying place.  It was a day of individuals, dealing with tragedy in their own way.

Ten years later, we are all still dealing with 9/11 in our own ways.  And MLB should have figured that out by now.

Evan is also the author of Umpire State. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_S_S.

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