Sports gave Boston a way to show its strength after marathon bombings, but tragedy lingers

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The full motives of the two brothers who set off a couple of pressure cookers near the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon are still unknown.

Outside of law enforcement using the motive as a way to somehow prevent future attacks, it doesn't matter.

They wanted to kill and injure people. They did. Eventually, one of the brothers was killed. The other will stand trial. Whatever it was they were trying to point out – if anything – might as well be ignored, the tactics muting the message. They were just two more preying on the innocent. No need to mention their names.

There have been reports the younger and surviving brother has told investigators the original plan was to set off the bombs on July 4. Instead, they got things together sooner and decided to take the opportunity for the big gathering of Patriots Day in Boston, when the Marathon and Red Sox make the city full of people.

This may have been merely a numbers game, an opportunity, not symbolism.

The attack went off at a sporting event, however, and in a very real way that changed the way it was perceived because of what sports mean to people during these kinds of trying times. Moreover, it's what sports mean when the events inevitably return, as the marathon will – bigger and better than ever – Monday in Massachusetts.

Yet, it's always wrong to believe sports somehow matter more in the wake of a terrorist attack – whether it's as nationally jolting as Sept. 11 or the latest mass shooting, which carries the same feeling of hopeless community terror.

Sports don't matter more. They don't heal anything. They don't bring back the dead or heal the wounded or comfort the families, who would rather just cancel sports forever if it meant their daughter or son or father or mother was still alive.

No game could ever matter like that.

Sports don't matter more, but they do matter differently. They suddenly carry an outsized value, because they aren't games. They are gatherings. In a splintered country, there is nothing in America that brings people together in both the sheer numbers and collective emotion like a game.

More people attend movies or dinner or parks or beaches on a given day, but they are scattered ventures, solo, inward, spread out. The national anthem isn't played prior to supper. At the movies you are told to be quiet, not loud.

What sports do, is allow a lot of people to stand together and be counted, day after day, year after year. It's not one candlelight vigil. It's recurring. It's tradition. It's on a schedule. It crosses societal lines.

So in Boston, when the great Rene Rancourt sang the national anthem before a televised and sold-out Bruins game, it was a galvanizing moment. When David Ortiz gave a speech at Fenway and declared, "This is our [expletive] city," it was met with the fervent support a politician could never match.

And when so many run through eight Massachusetts cities and towns on Monday, with who knows how big a crowd cheering them on – the marathon usually gets 500,000; this should be way bigger – it will symbolize a show of strength.

But that's all it is; furious but fleeting. To overplay that sports is anything more than a ready-made rally is wrong. It just ignores the problem.

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Life just went on. The local and state police did a brilliant job and caught their men quickly. The dead were still dead, though. The wounded were still wounded and seeking normalcy – which many won't find. And no one thinks it won't happen again, sometime, somewhere.

A civil society can do what it can to try to denounce this stuff, but we know now that it is too common. Set off some pressure cookers at the Boston Marathon and it's huge news.

The pain and the purpose is the same as a mass-stabbing spree in a Western Pennsylvania school or the murdering of three at a Kansas City Jewish Community Center or in Oklahoma City or lower Manhattan or Shanksville or the Pentagon or Sandy Hook Elementary or Virginia Tech or Columbine High or Santa Monica College or Fort Hood or Fort Hood again. Or inside a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., or a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., or an espresso shop in Seattle, or on a street corner in the wrong part of a city, or an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., or a hair salon in Seal Beach, Calif., or an IHOP in Carson City, Nev., or a nursing home in Carthage, N.C., or a beer distributor in Manchester, Conn. Or a lecture hall at Northern Illinois, a little Amish school house in Pennsylvania, a department store in Omaha, or the seeming endless array of acts of terror, many of which barely merit much coverage anymore and are, quite sadly, too quickly lost to history.

Except by the people who forever love the victims and can't forget what everyone can't remember.

In this case, these two brothers in Boston attacked a sporting event, and that sporting event is roaring back a year later. It could've been an Independence Day parade, or the Pops concert on the Charles, or who knows what these people dream up.

It's all the same in the end. Innocent left dead and wounded, and a community shaken while everyone else hopes it doesn't happen to them – knowing they're powerless.

So, yes, sports are important in Boston this week, as they were a year ago in the wake of that bombing. But as a show of support, as a venue for flags and anthems and speeches and tears and a gathering of the right thinking.

Sports' reach is finite. The games change nothing in the end. Not in Boston, not anywhere, because the cheering eventually stops.

The hurt doesn't. And neither, sadly and infuriatingly, does the need for the next show of community strength.