I intended today to post my usual pregame cheat sheet for the upcoming Sunday Night Football battle between the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. It’s by far the biggest game of the day and one of the most anticipated games of the season. After last week’s rout of the mighty Texans, the Patriots are again establishing their dominance as Super Bowl favorites.
But that is the last I will write about the game.
I have had my TV tuned to CNN for over 48 hours now, watching unwavering coverage of the devastation in Newtown, Conn. In the wake of the murder of 20 innocent children and six brave women trying to protect them, I have found it hard to concentrate on sports.
As a sports writer and reporter, I have had the pleasure to share my passion for these games and a culture that unites fans around America and around the world. People ask me all the time why I write sports rather than something else, and my answer is always the same. I write sports because they bring us together and make us happy.
At the end of the day, despite the outrageous contracts, the isolated incidents of heartbreaking violence or injury, and the duels between rival teams and fans, sports are just sports. The rest of the world is so serious and full of truly meaningful and often painful debates. Sports are an escape from all that, and that’s why I love to share that with others.
Today though, there is no escape; most especially for a town that is less than a two-and-a-half hour drive from where I sit right now.
There are 27 families in New England today that are grieving for women and children who were sought out and murdered.
There are dozens more parents whose children saw their teacher and 6- and 7-year-old class mates brutally murdered, shot multiple times at close range by a man in black who is the very definition of evil. These babies had to flee for their lives from a place that they had always felt safe.
There are police officers, FBI agents, medics, medical examiners and other first responders and law enforcement that had to bear the unimaginable trauma of standing in a first grade classroom surrounded by dead children.
There are thousands of people in Newtown whose entire community is standing still with this gut-wrenching grief that is nearly impossible to assuage right now. It is a state of unnatural devastation unlike anything this country has ever seen, and something that surpasses any of our worst nightmares.
I know that the whole world will continue to go on, as it should. I know that we cannot all stop in our tracks when something tragic like this happens and that we must all push forward and live our lives to the fullest in honor of those who no longer can.
But I implore our entire sports community to stop for a moment today and just be grateful to have a night to ourselves to enjoy a football game. It is a simple pleasure. It is time to spend with family or friends, to bond with sons and daughters and enjoy good food and drink. For me it is a time that I get paid to do work that I love and watch a game that I love.
That is all that matters about tonight’s game. Just be happy to have it, and spread that happiness out in thought and prayer for the members of our New England community tonight to whom football means nothing right now.
When something like this happens, it’s hard to know what to say.
When something like this happens, it’s hard to find a way to ease your own grief, to decide whether to follow the coverage religiously or attempt to distract yourself with something else.
When something like this happens, everything else seems insignificant.
On Friday, this world was changed when a gunman entered an elementary school and slaughtered 26 innocent people – 20 of them children — shortly after murdering his own mother. This is a crime that is unfathomable, making it that much harder to know how to react.
Think back to elementary school. It’s a place where you read stories, eat lunch together with your friends, play on the playground and the classroom, and learn in an environment where it is actually fun to learn in. It’s a place where you’re carefree. It’s a place of bright colors and laughter and smiles.
It shouldn’t be a place of gunshots, of blood, of terror, of death.
An elementary school should never experience something so tragic that our president cries when talking about it on live television.
But this is the reality this world is waking up to. This is what people across the world are now trying to fathom.
When something terrible happens, I turn to sports or music to comfort myself. On Friday, there was no escaping the tragedy by diving into the world of sports. Every team, every league, every athlete was talking about Newtown, Conn.
On Sunday, the NFL will hold a moment of silence before all of its games. On Friday night, NBA teams observed a moment of silence as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, a player whom the cameras are constantly trained on, wrote “Newtown, CT” on his sneakers, knowing the town’s name would get all kinds of TV time during the game. It was clear where his mind was on Friday night.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was thinking of the same thing as Durant. “I think it affects everybody,” Scott said as he addressed the tragedy Friday night.
“It puts everything in the right perspective as well. As much as we love this game, this [game] doesn’t mean nothing.”
Even ESPN, the largest sports media conglomerate there is, was silenced by grief. Newtown is just 30 miles from the ESPN headquarters in Bristol. Many ESPN employees live in small, picturesque Connecticut towns just like Newtown. It undoubtedly hit very close to home there.
As a result, ESPN decided to show its grief and sensitivity by stopping all tweets reacting to sports, opening each segment with acknowledgement of the tragedy by coaches and athletes, refraining from using the word “shooter” or other sensitive verbiage, and eliminating inappropriate sales ploys and commercials for the rest of the weekend.
It’s surreal to see ESPN do something like this. I was nine years old when the Columbine massacre happened and 11 years old when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Maybe I was too young at the time, but I don’t remember ESPN ever going silent in this manner.
It speaks to the unprecedented horror of this crime, of the pure devastation that comes from the needless deaths of young children in a place where they are supposed to be safe and happy and starting their lives. It speaks to the horrific loss of brave teachers and administrators who threw themselves in front of a loaded gun in an attempt to protect the young children in their care.
In a way, it is comforting to see this, comforting to see the president cry and ESPN go silent. The deep loss and confusion and grief I feel is so clearly mirrored in everyone and everything around me, and knowing I’m not alone, knowing that the depth of my feelings is shared by others, helps.
Normally, I turn to sports as an escape. Now, I turn to sports as a part of a community. All of our worlds have been shattered. I can’t escape the horror of the Newtown massacre — nobody can – and so we grieve together. We grieve with our friends and family and sports teams and media outlets and president.
Because when something like this happens, it’s hard to know what to say. All we can do is come together and, as a community, acknowledge our pain.
For all you moms out there, this post is for you!
After many years of reporting on the Boston Bruins players’ Annual Holiday Toy Shopping Event, I was fortunate enough to actually participate in it myself this year. Due to the circumstances of the NHL Lockout, players are not available to take part in team-sponsored events.
So, along with members of the Boston Bruins staff, including President Cam Neely, Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney, Head Coach Claude Julien, Bruins Hall of Famer John “Chief” Bucyk and other media personalities in Boston, I went to Target in Woburn to begin my shopping for the kids.
I received a clipboard with the details of the children I was buying gifts for and what their “wish list” was. Two boys and two girls in each of the following four categories: infant, toddler, small child, and teens. That totals 16 kids, and I had a budget of $699.
Off I went, along with Director of Boston Bruins hockey, Rose Mirakian-Wheeler, to collect our gifts in a shopping cart.
I was overwhelmed with gift ideas – up and down the aisles we went with discussions like “Do toddlers like glow worms or a “laugh and learn snail? Do boys prefer matchbox cars to a board game?” Decisions, decisions, 16 times over!
“A pair of hop-along boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen”
We laughed along with the rest of the crew who were diligently filling up their carts as well. Our cart kept getting reactions such as “You guys are WAY over budget!” and “Holy Smokes! Who are you guys buying for!?”
Needless to say, Rose and I are both experienced shoppers. We learned early on that Fisher Price had a “Buy one, get one 50 percent off” and the Matchbox cars had the same promo.
Ipod shuffles for the teen girls, portable DVD players for the teen boys, Holiday Barbie for the young girls, along with glitter hats, gloves, and purses (my fave!). Rattles, stuffed animals, baby dolls that require feeding, board games, DVD’s, kittens that purr, and so on and so on.
What a fun day, and all for charity.
I was honored to be able to participate in such a festive and wonderful event. I look forward now to the delivery, where I can see the kids’ faces light up (hopefully) at our choices.
To participate in an event that exemplifies the true spirit of the holidays is unlike any other.
My thanks to the Bruins for inviting me to participate; to the Target staff for being so accommodating, and to Rose for carrying the calculator to make sure we stayed on budget.
We were only $15 over. Not bad.
“….And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”
Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season. And to all those moms, good luck!
The Boston Bruins Foundation, Delaware North Companies and Garden Neighborhood Charities fund $22,500 worth of toys, with each organization donating $7,500. The toys will be delivered to hospitals around Boston and given as gifts to children who are unable to celebrate
the holidays at home.
Last year, the Bruins donated an estimated total of more than $23,000 worth of toys.
Bruins Hall of Famer Ray Bourque started the holiday toy shopping and delivery tradition when he was captain, and the event has continued through the years.
It seems like every week there is another headline story on sports concussions. The latest news had to do with a study conducted at Boston University. On Monday, the Boston Globe dedicated most of their front page to the results of the study. Later in the day it was all over network news. Basically, the researchers confirmed what many of us already believed to be true: Concussions cause brain damage – and brain damage causes all kinds of problems for years to come.
The study was based on the autopsies of 85 brain donors, most of the them professional athletes. Without getting too scientific, we learned more about the Alzheimer's-like symptoms that are caused by blows to the head. We discovered more about how concussions cause the destruction of brain cells, and can lead to death. What resonated most for me about the story was a remark made by the study's leader Dr. Anne McKee during a network news interview. "Would you allow your own son to play football now that we know the results of your study?" was the reporter's question.
Dr. McKee's answer was, "I would have to think very seriously about that."
I give credit to McKee for not blurting out a straight "no." Any parent with a kid that plays sports knows it's not that easy. Concussions happen in football and hockey. They also happen in non-helmet sports like soccer and basketball. They happen in cheerleading, diving, and figure skating, too.
We have come a long way in awareness, that is for sure. Ten years ago when my son started Pop Warner, our biggest worry as parents was not head injury. Our biggest concern at the time was how our son would manage playing in two hockey leagues and football at the same time. He still had homework to do after all.
As it turned out, our son dropped football after less than three weeks of practice. He was a 90-pound ten-year-old playing against kids that could weigh up to 140 pounds. He was getting killed out there – and had the welts on his arms and legs to prove it. My sister, visiting from California, saw his bruises and asked, "Isn't this kind of like child abuse?" That was it. We pulled him out, and he was more than okay with that. But he kept at the hockey, and again, the worry was not concussions. He broke a collar bone, spent a few months in a sling and went back at it. I can't remember one parent back then worried about concussions.
Now, with all the research and publicity, at least we are more aware.
The latest news out of the BU Center of Traumatic Encephalopathy had me thinking about something else.
What about me? As a figure skater, how many times did I hit my head on the ice? How many times did I see other skaters knocked out and feeling nauseous? The answer is too many. It could happen learning a double axel or it could happen just forgetting to take your skate guards off getting on to the ice. The feet go straight up from under you and the next thing you know you banged your head. We felt embarrassed, not worried about concussions.
Skating coaches and parents would sometimes do the "eye pupil" check. If the pupils in the skater's eyes didn't look dilated you were good to go.
Figure skaters, like gymnasts, cheerleaders, spring board and platform divers are never going to wear helmets. Maybe they should – but it will never happen.
When I switched from singles to pair skating at age 18 it was even worse. Learning a death spiral (what a name) should have required a helmet. Learning how to land throw doubles and triple twists should have required a helmet and full padding.
The death spiral requires the female to lean all the way back on one blade with one "free arm" and the other arm holding on to the partner's grip. The man leans back the other way in a pivot. Learning how to do it meant falling on your head ... a lot. Mastering a "throw" jump means many landings on your butt – which often continues with a slide into the boards. The force of the impact will sometimes result in the head being the last part of the body to hit the rink barrier.
Anyone who thinks figure skating isn't a sport, I invite you to watch a pairs training session. No costumes. No make-up. No guts, no glory. My own mother was so traumatized watching an early pairs practice she had to leave the rink. She wasn't the only parent who couldn't bear to watch.
Cheerleading injuries are big news now. It used to be waving pom poms, but now it's all about stunts. My daughter started as a "flyer" (the one up in the air), and now she is a base. With each twist, lift, and basket catch there is the danger of head injury whether you are flying or basing. It comes with the territory, and cheerleaders are not likely to ever put on a helmet like the players on the field behind them.
So now we know the facts. Some of us are hoping the undiagnosed concussions don't mean problems later. There isn't much we can do about it now.
Then there are the decisions we make as parents. How many kids are playing flag football instead of contact Pop Warner these days? Many more. When we hear five kids suffered concussions in one Pop Warner game, it's not just worrisome, it's sickening.
The bottom line is we can't all turn into chess players. There is a danger in sports, and there is a danger in getting into a car every day. I would not change a thing about spending my youth on the hard and unforgiving surface of ice. In the end, the kids are going to play, the kids are going to get bigger, and they are going to keep playing. The super talented athletes will go on to play in college – the elite will make it a career.
There are many cold hard facts about concussions, and some extremely sad stories. The games will go on, and thankfully, now when an athlete hits their head it's taken seriously. It's a very big step for a problem that is changing the fabric of sports at every level, helmet or not.
They’re calling it a Cinderella story: for the first time in school history, Sharon High School won a Super Bowl thanks to a 12-3 win over Wayland High. For me, this is no Cinderella story; this is a miracle.
I was born and raised in Sharon. As far as I can remember, Sharon never won a single football game during my four years at the high school. They didn’t win many games any other year for that matter. I don’t remember ever seeing Sharon football enjoy a winning season, but Google searches tell me it has happened. Still, a winning Sharon football team seems more to me like a Greek myth than a real thing.
I remember during my freshman year at Boston University, I excitedly boasted to my friends that my high school had finally won a football game – albeit by forfeit thanks to Mansfield’s use of an ineligible player. I thought that was the pinnacle for Sharon football. I was wrong.
This season, I’ve followed the team closely for the first time since I graduated five seasons ago. When I went home for the Jewish holidays in September, I learned that the football team was undefeated. The coach, Dave Morse, was awarded Patriots Coach of the Week honors by Sharon resident and former Patriot Andre Tippett. This honor alone was quite an achievement for the football team.
In Sharon, the head football coach position is typically a revolving door. The coach was not generally well-known around the school, and the only time I ever knew who the football coach was was when he was my math teacher and I was covering the team for the town paper. My biggest challenge that year was coming up with new and exciting ways to say that Sharon had lost yet again.
As I continued to follow the football team this season, I kept thinking about how exciting this must be for every student at the high school. Sharon High is a pressure-cooker. Academics are of utmost importance – we never had free periods or non-academic electives in high school.
Competition took place in the classroom, not on the athletic fields. Students would compete with others in terms of how many AP classes they took (if you didn’t get a 5 on an AP exam, you were a blemish on the Sharon High record), how many Ivy League schools they applied to and how many A’s they received on report cards.
Athletics were almost always just a peripheral part of high school. While many students played sports, an athletic culture never ruled Sharon High. We joked that Sharon was only good at “country club” sports: tennis, gymnastics, swimming and golf. The stereotypical “jocks and cheerleaders” clique was absent. We didn’t have homecoming. Students didn’t go to sporting events. We seldom had a chance to be normal teenagers under the crazy academic pressure we all faced.
I remember going to a football game as a fan just once (I was dating a player on the team and it was Thanksgiving – he begged me to go). I watched the game from the cozy interior of my car. It was a rainy November day, cold and wet, and there were no other students from Sharon there. Nobody cared. The team lost, and while I don’t remember the score, I’m pretty sure it was by a lot.
The only time I ever remember the school getting caught up in an athletic team’s success was in 2007 when our soccer team went to the Eastern Mass state final. A huge group of students went to the tournament games, and I remember cheering like crazy and rushing the field when the team topped Concord-Carlisle to win the state semifinal. They lost in the state final, but for Sharon, just making it there was a victory.
It was exhilarating to be at that game with my friends, to get away from the pressures of high school academics and college applications for just a few hours and cheer on my classmates. Since Sharon is a small town, I had known the players on the team since kindergarten. While I had always been a sports fan, I never knew the pleasure of coming together with your entire school to support people you have known since you were five years old. It’s a shame I only experienced that joy once.
One of the best photos I’ve seen from Sharon’s Super Bowl win was one of the sidelines. It appeared on the Hockomock sports Twitter account, and it showed an incredible crowd of Sharon residents clad in maroon and gold cheering on the football team. I’ve never seen anything like that in Sharon. Before the soccer game in 2007, I had to go out and buy a maroon shirt; I didn’t have any clothing in school colors.
I don’t know what the future has in store for Sharon football. I never could have imagined a Super Bowl championship in my town. I’m so excited for the team, their families, friends and the rest of the town. I hope this game serves as a reminder that there is more in life to be proud of than just academic success. I hope it reminds the town of the joy in coming together as a community to support each other. I hope it reminds Sharon that there’s more to high school than just academic success.
Congratulations one last time to Sharon football for making what once seemed impossible a reality. It was a great season, and I’m thrilled you all have been rewarded for the hard work and commitment it took to reach this point.