All I remember from the 2009 MLB All-Star Game are the snipers. Sitting in the upper deck pregame, you couldn't help but be mesmerized by them. Just these lonely dark figures on the Busch Stadium rooftops, seeing all, watching everyone, searching for the slightest tic among 50,000 people. It was a baseball game, like hundreds I'd seen before, except above my head were trained professionals with rifles. And they felt … unnecessary?
They weren't, of course. They were there to protect President Barack Obama, who was throwing out the first pitch, and it was a very different vibe from the last time I'd seen a President throw out the first pitch at a baseball game. That was in October 2001, when George W. Bush came out, defiant, sort of strutting, actually, to kick off Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. In 2001, Bush was showing the world that we were not scared, that we were strong and would not change our way of life. In 2009, Obama was just throwing a ball. Some people cheered him, some people booed him, but it was normal, the way everybody always treats politicians in the public sphere. Those eight years were progress. We weren't so afraid anymore. We didn't feel the need to be so defiant.
You're hearing a lot about how things are forever different, how the Boston Marathon will never be the same, how something innocent and pure has been ruined by some a--hole or group of a--holes. But it hasn't. It just feels that way right now.
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As my colleague Patrick Hruby pointed out, it's sort of amazing that attacks like Monday's don't happen more often in the world of sports. Sporting events represent almost dumbly obvious targets for those looking to inspire terror and to kill as many people as possible. They hit every terror quadrant. Sporting events:
a: Feature a communal atmosphere in which all walks of life -- what could be called in the purest sense the American way of life -- are represented;
b: Are clearly scheduled and marked, allowing for planning sometimes years in advance;
c: Weave themselves into the fabric of every day normalcy, with years of history, giving attendees a sense of comfort and routine, precisely what terror seeks to disrupt;
d: Most of all, compact tens of thousands of people right on top of each other, in a confined space.
It makes attacks like Monday's feel, by the rules of terror, sort of inefficient. Yesterday was a shocking tragedy that none of us will ever forget, and every story you read about it is so sad that you ultimately have to stop. But let there be no question that it could have been, and probably should have been, a lot worse.
And it feels like someday, it will be. For all the security measures that stadiums and arenas have added in the last decade, anyone who has ever had their bag checked in the cursory, there are 2,000 people behind you in line so just keep moving, OK? manner when they've entered a sporting event knows how the process is rather far from fail-safe. Sure, when the President is in town or the NBA Finals are kicking off and the whole world is watching, security is heightened, but that's precisely when an intelligent bringer of mayhem doesn't plan an attack. You do it when people aren't looking for it, when people feel safe, when no one would even consider something that awful happening. You do it on days like yesterday. It doesn't take much to tip us over into fear and horror.
We've all known this for years now. It is inherent to the experience: One of the reasons attending a sporting event is so enjoyable is that you are doing it with so many like-minded people. We feel collectively stronger, more unified. Baked into civic convocations is that we are fundamentally more of a target; this could happen at any time. We don't think about it, though, at least not for long. It's a passing wisp of a notion, from that same dark place in the brain where worse-case scenarios pop up and then are brushed away, because who wants to live like that? Who wants to constantly be waiting around for something terrible to happen?
That is what they prey on. But that is nonetheless our strength. Eventually, Monday will fade from memory -- we won't forget it, but we won't constantly be referencing it either; it will become something that happened, rather than something that is happening -- and we will return to feeling comfortable and safe, perhaps safer than we really are. This is what makes us strong, and uniquely American: We truly believe that everything is going to turn out all right for us. It's our default state, one we'll always return to. That's what allows attacks like yesterday's to work, no matter who did it. But I'm not sure any of us would make the tradeoff. To congregate en masse while afraid is not to congregate en masse at all. No matter what, we will continue to go to our games, and, being Americans, probably even still complain about the few security measures we have to go through. To do otherwise would be to be someone other than who we are.
Monday's tragedy was horrifying, and it could have been so much worse. Someday, something will be. But none of it will change anything. It won't change the way we act, the way we cheer, the way we gather together. We will remain defiant simply by being ourselves, whether we're screaming at the idiot pitcher while guzzling huge overpriced beers or quietly keeping score with our child in the upper deck. We'll return to normal quicker than we think, before we even realize it. We will always be who we are. It makes me damned proud, is what it does.