When you move to Pittsburgh during a Mr. Rogers renaissance, you tend to learn a few things about the man. Little things — things he once said were important.
I woke up on Saturday morning, and went grocery shopping with my wife. When we got home and turned on the television, we saw a neighborhood not unlike our own. We saw familiar signs and sights. We didn’t hear the gunshots, didn’t see the blood. We only heard faint siren sounds and felt a gnawing in the pit of our stomachs when we learned what had happened in Squirrel Hill.
Pittsburgh is a resilient city, and will be fine. I’m more worried about America than Pittsburgh, to tell you the truth. Politics has become more like sports and sports have gotten more political. But I won’t get into the anthem protests or anything similar in this article. The other day, before the tragic Tree of Life shooting, I came across a video that made me stop and think.
Marcus Lattimore was one of the most talented running backs ever to play for the University of South Carolina. Unfortunately, his playing career was cut short by severe knee injuries. One particularly gruesome knee injury occurred in a 2012 home game against the Tennessee Volunteers. But it wasn’t the grotesqueness of Lattimore’s injury that made me pause — it was what happened while the medical staff was tending to him.
The opposing Vols, recognizing the seriousness of Lattimore’s injury, came over in groups to check on him. For once, two teams were gathered on the field facing one another, and it wasn’t the product of animosity or a mere coin toss. These were two football teams worried about the well being of a fellow player. Two teams, beating each other up in one of the most violent, physical sports on earth. Two teams, showing the stadium and, thanks to YouTube, countless viewers, what it means to be a true competitor.
A true competitor plays by the rules, works hard, respects their opponents, and learns from defeat. We are a nation of competing ideas and ideologies. And we are all competitors. It’s practically woven into our DNA.
To some, sports are their own religion — a chance to be among people who support the same thing. It feeds our need as human beings to belong. Like religion, sports have the capacity to bring people together. However, when team loyalty or immovable ideology outweighs showing respect, love, and acknowledging the humanity of every person, sports, like religion, can also tear people apart. Fights break out, and things get “chippy.” Benches clear, brawls ensue.
There will surely be other shootings and hateful acts of terror in the months and years to come. The question is, what happens in the aftermath? Do we follow Fred Rogers, who teaches us to “look for the helpers” during a crisis and become helpers ourselves? Or do we retreat to our corners and dream of destroying our opponents? We are all human. When we dream of destroying our opponents, we are really destroying ourselves.
Let’s face it: Jews, Catholics, atheists, black, brown, and white, we all need one another. What fun would it be going to a sporting event with nobody else in the crowd? Sports are like movies — they are best enjoyed communally. Imagine the Boston Red Sox breaking the curse in 2004 with Fenway totally empty throughout the series. We are so much better than that, so much more than that.
I believe we’re a nation that comes together, just like those Vols, offering words of assurance and signs of support to those different from us, especially during moments of tragedy. I believe in a nation that rose from the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center. I believe in a nation that withstood two World Wars. And I believe in a nation that will come together to conquer the next crisis, whatever it may be. We will conquer it with love and mutual respect. Because that loud “nuisance” next door is still a neighbor with hopes, fears, joys, and concerns, just like you.
Browns fans, hug a Steelers fan. Yankee devotees, reach out to a Red Sox supporter. We’re bigger than red, blue, colors, numbers, letters, stadiums, and blimps.
We built it — all of it. And we’ll continue to build it. So pick up a hammer and hard hat. Let’s get to work. In spite of everything, it’s still a beautiful day in the neighborhood.