Only now do we begin to comprehend how important our major sports programs have become.
With the NFL leading the way, and major league baseball, college football and the PGA following, a weekend of spirited competition has been replaced by a period set aside for reflective mourning.
And, symbolically speaking, all these empty stadiums offer the clearest across-the-land sign of how seriously we take the Attack on America.
Yes, airlines shut down about safety concerns, and stock market activity was postponed out of the fear of rampant sell-offs.
But from ocean to ocean, people pushed ahead this week while keeping an eye tuned to the televised horror story out East. Even as Americans stopped to give blood and send checks, universities purred along, high schools maintained their activities, media members worked harder than ever, and businesses forged ahead. Restaurants and theaters remained active.
But not college football. It was OK on Wednesday afternoon for collegiate leaders to reach a reasoned decision to play if travel wasn´t difficult Louisville agreed to bus to Illinois but it wasn´t OK Thursday morning to be among the few who dared to be politically incorrect.
Sudden change of heart
The telephone lines connecting our networking collegiate leaders bubbled Wednesday night. Each new call made the direction clearer.
"My heartbeat changed with each passing day,´´ said UI athletic director Ron Guenther, explaining that he "tried to digest developments and do the right thing.´´ In the end, as the enormity of it sank in, too many lives were touched and, said Guenther, "the country needed an opportunity to express itself.´´
Cynics will say the righteous threw a shutout against the pragmatists, that the stunning reversal merely meant that college football wouldn´t allow itself to be out-mourned by the pros. They will say that to hold out, to play games in the wake of such despair, was to be painted insensitive ... to risk an unacceptable level of ostracism.
Now, as we reflect on the rubble of the fallen towers, as we feel the intense pain of disaster victims, let´s all agree that the decision to spend a weekend in reflection is appropriate. Those of us with the blinders-wearing philosophy of handling hardship by going immediately forward are obliged to step back and let those less practical not more caring catch up.
Our grieving has been presented to us on a prescribed timeline. It shall be one week, Tuesday until Monday.
Sports reflects national will
We go forward from here, carrying a new understanding that there is a great deal more patriotism associated with our major sports than a flag and a mandatory national anthem. The seriousness of a tragedy now can be measured by the degree of stadium idleness.
Other aspects of our economy go forward without criticism. Leisure activity is acceptable, and spectator sports are not frowned on ... as long as no more than a few thousand convene for, say, a high school event. These are the rules now chiseled in stone.
We are into our prescribed weekend, and some will view it as a period of solemn reflection, of prayer. But there are others who see the absence of big-time sports rings as a fierce statement of resolve, a sign the na-tion is taking its breath before heading full-out in its new war on terrorism.
This action might be coming from the fun and games department, but there´s no clearer purveyor of this nation´s will.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.