Sitting at midcourt at Cameron Indoor Stadium to cover a Duke basketball game is an opportunity few get to experience. When the Blue Devils played Siena Friday night, though, there was no one between me and the floor and the raucous Cameron Crazies breathed down my neck as I watched the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class play its first real game.
I was 100 percent into the game—my laptop was open annotating the contest, I was tweeting live updates and contemplating how to take an angle on the game unfolding before me. Would I write about Grayson Allen’s monstrous season debut? How about the double-double from Amile Jefferson? Or what about the phenomenal freshmen?
But then, sitting at center court, that no longer seemed to matter. As the game unfolded, I was drawn to my Twitter feed, which was plastered with countless headlines growing increasingly dire: “Paris under attack.”
It’s hard to care about a blowout, season-opening basketball game while something so shocking unfolds somewhere else. Given my spot on press row, it was even more difficult when one of the attacks was made at the Stade de France during a soccer friendly between France and Germany—another arena, in another place, at the same time.
Sitting at Cameron while the soccer stadium in Paris was evacuated put things in perspective: That could be here. That could be us. That could be me.
When an attack like that occurs at a place that has always seemed so safe, so divorced from the “real world” as a place for me to escape from reality, it hits home. I struggled through postgame interviews, finished my story and wandered off to bed so that I could get some rest before the Duke-Pittsburgh football game that I was covering the next day. I hoped that as I sat in the press box for the Blue Devils’ final home game of the year, there would be no further terrifying developments.
For once, I was right. Rather than find myself disenchanted by the terror around the world, I saw a beacon of hope—the rallying cry of the sporting world.
First, a single College GameDay tweet: “The only sign we plan on sharing today.” What followed was an image of the “Peace for Paris” sign drawn by Jean Jullien.
Then another tweet from ESPN: “Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones pays tribute to Paris”—the insignia used as a show of support for Paris was drawn on his cleats for the Buckeyes’ showdown against Illinois.
And then another: “Army football stands with France,” followed by a video of defensive back Caleb McNeill running out of the tunnel at West Point proudly carrying a French flag beside the American flag—a symbol of unity, of support and of solidarity against the hell that had erupted the night before halfway around the world.
Do I think that these acts of support make a difference in the larger scheme of supporting France? No. Do I agree with the massive support for France, while Beirut, Baghdad, Japan and Mexico are idly ignored in the media? Not at all. But am I reminded why I care so much about sports? Without a doubt. Despite the meaningless results of what may or may not occur on the field, athletes are acutely aware of the spotlight they command and how they can draw attention to the bigger, real-world issues that swarm around us.
It’s heartening—at least for me—to know that even though it’s just a game, the athletes, the fans and those absentmindedly watching at home can rally around one another at a time of such tragedy. Sure, the terror is still there, but somehow I feel better knowing that keeping things in perspective is still on the minds of those that pour blood, sweat and tears day-in and day-out for the chance to play the games they love. The world matters more than a “W” in the box score, and it’s good to see that acknowledged in the NFL, NBA and other major sports giants of the world.
I don’t intend to make an argument or start a debate about the merits of activism in athletics. I’ve dealt with enough Tim Tebow-bashing for his religious activism and heard enough excuses from the NFL regarding uniform regulations stopping breast cancer awareness displays.
But just remember, although terror can strike when you least expect it, there is solidarity and support from those that command the limelight on the gridiron, the hardwood and the pitch. With that in mind, look up to those that make the less meaningful moments in life about what truly matters.