|Significant moments in sports and war|
Page 2 staff
It's an important question, forcing us to think about how, and when, and why sports are important to us. At the same time, the simple posing of the question reminds us that sport, however important, resides squarely in the realm of entertainment -- necessary for our national psyche, but not sufficient for our national survival.
And often, as much as we wish they hadn't, the two realms -- the symbolic combat on the field, on the court, on the ice, and the very real combat of war -- intersect in ways of great significance.
Some say nobody but a hard-line anti-Communist like Nixon could have opened up China during the height of the Cold War. And perhaps nobody but Ali -- the greatest boxer in the world, a man who made his living with his fists -- could have made a more powerful antiwar statement. And it was more than words: Ali, a conscientious objector, talked the talk and walked the walk, and paid dearly for his principled stance.
2. Nile Kinnick: Iowa's Golden Boy pays the ultimate price
When Kinnick accepted his Heisman, he gave a brief but eloquent speech. "I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe," he said.
That kind of thoughtful statement from the country's biggest sports star at the time was part of what transformed Kinnick into national hero. "The country is OK as long as it produces Nile Kinnicks," wrote Bill Cunningham in The Boston Globe. "The football part is incidental." Kinnick died when his plane went down on a training mission in the Caribbean in 1943, and many still wonder what might have been.
After the Twin Towers fell to the biggest attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, there was no question that the games would stop. MLB and NFL games were cancelled, and most college football games were called off, as well.
The first game in New York, the signal of a return to normality, would be an emotion-packed Mets game that left players, fans at Shea and TV viewers around the country in tears.
4. The Civil War and the National Pastime
5. The Cold War
6. Jackie Robinson fights the enemy at home and abroad
Robinson later called it a pivotal episode in his life, and summed up the feelings of many black servicemen who served in World War II: "I had learned that I was in two wars, one against the foreign enemy, the other against prejudice at home."
7. Ted Williams interrupts his career -- twice
He served again, during the Korean War, flying as John Glenn's wingman in an F-9. He flew 39 missions, and miraculously survived a crash landing after his plane had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. The next day, Williams was back in the air.
In all, Williams lost almost five full seasons serving his country. Many other athletes served in WWII and Korea, but Williams became the exemplar of the sports hero/war hero.
"Oh ... could he fly an airplane," said Glenn. "Absolutely fearless. The best I ever saw. It was an honor to fly with him."
8. MLB continues during WWII, offers morning games for night shift
MLB did change its schedule around, playing lots of twilight and night games and even occasional morning games for those just coming off the night shift. Players got part of their pay in war bonds, and all kinds of fundraising drives and patriotic, war-oriented activities regularly accompanied games. With most of the best players serving in the military, the quality of play declined in the majors -- but Army and Navy teams, composed of Major Leaguers, were never better.
9. The Gulf War and Super Bowl XXV
It turned out to be a great game, opened with Whitney Houston's moving rendition of the national anthem, but the war atmosphere tempered all the hoopla. No blimp. A patriotic halftime show. Long security checks. Military helicopters circling Tampa Stadium. Subdued ads that paid tribute to those stationed in the Middle East.
And some respite for those troops, who watched and listened to the game live, in the middle of the night, via the Armed Forces network. "Last night we had Scud alerts three times in eight hours," said an Army doctor. "You need something to take your mind off what the reality is around here."
10. Uninterrupted soccer resumes in Kabul
"A group of Kabul men flung off their baggy trousers and tunics on Thursday for a game of post-Taliban soccer, free from the threat of interruption by the fundamentalist militia carrying out a public execution," reported Reuters on Nov. 15, 2001.
Soccer matches played when the Taliban were in power would be interrupted for public executions. Less awful, but almost as telling, was that the Taliban banned applause during matches. And the flinging off of the trousers was more than symbolic. "Before, the Taliban used to make us play in long garments, and today you see us in short sleeves and shorts," said one player. "It's wonderful."