Friday, November 1, 2013

Boston Strong

Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series (well, during the series, even ...) there has been a groundswell of sentiment that it is mawkish, or crass, or (pick whatever word you want) to use "Boston Strong" and "Red Sox" in the same sentence.

The feeling is that trivializing the motto in any way is also trivializing the bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line and it's painful aftermath.

I do not agree.

First, let's assume most people in this world are reasonably intelligent. The ones who aren't ... what can you do? They're the ones who think the the NFL, or the NBA, get together and dictate that "we need New York to be in the playoffs, so let's make sure the refs slant all calls their way." They're hopeless, and trying to configure your policies and opinions around these people makes you as dumb as they are.

But for the rest of us ... the ones who always understood -- even at age 5 -- that Moe wasn't really poking Larry and Curly in the eyes, or hitting them off the head with shovels or lead pipes ... we get it. We know there's no way you could ever compare winning a World Series with the slow, painful, and emotional healing process that those victims underwent (and still may be going through). That's insane. Nobody but the most unaware of the dolts on this planet would ever equate the two.

But to be as dismissive as some people seem to be about the feel-good 2013 Red Sox also shows an alarming lack of insight into the human condition. People need good news. They need happy endings. And they need to connect with something uplifting any way they can.

I remember talking with a woman who never saw a basketball game. Maybe she didn't even know what a basketball was. But her boyfriend had just informed her -- out of the clear blue -- that their relationship had ended. She was beyond devastated.

Her depression went on for months ... as these things often do. One of her friends, in an effort to cheer her up, invited her to go to a Celtics game, and on that particular night, the Knicks were the fodder (this was back in the early seventies, when the Celtics were very good). She went, and the Celtics just pulverized the Knicks. And for some reason, she found that experience cathartic. Perhaps she transferred all that hostility from her ex to the Knicks, but whatever it was, she said she said that from then on, she became a rabid Celtics fan.

These things happen. People make the connection. Whether it's to escape from the pain they're suffering in their lives ... whether it's the type of transference this woman experienced ... who knows. But it happens, and more often than any of us know.

The Red Sox didn't do anything to discourage people from making the Boston Strong connection (in fact, Will Middlebrooks might have coined the phrase in a tweet after the team found out about the bombings). They certainly took the ball and ran with it. Were they wrong? No, they weren't wrong. I saw it at the time -- and still see it -- as a genuine effort to use their power to unite people to do exactly that. Unite them.

There was a harmonic convergence of circumstances going on that played into all this. The Red Sox were on a mission last April to win their fans back after the horrendous Bobby Valentine experience. Maybe they saw this as the best opportunity they'd ever have to change the public's perception of them. But again, were they wrong? Crass? Mawkish? I don't think so. We criticize professional athletes all the time for the way they put themselves above their fans ... insulate themselves to the point where they're oblivious to the day-to-day struggles people fight to overcome.

Don't we see it every day? Don't we cringe when we hear someone who's just made $5 million to play a game complain that he should be making $10 million? Weren't we all just flabbergasted that Aaron Hernandez, who was making $12 million, is suspected of the type of grudge murder that John Singleton depicted in his saga of the hopelessness of inner-city gang violence (Boyz in the Hood)?

What on earth is hopeless about $12 million per?

It's one thing for franchises to demonstrate civic responsibility and sensitivity, because they are (allegedly) run by intelligent, business-oriented people who understand that in times like these, we all need to stand up and be counted. But today's professional athlete has no such radar. 

This wasn't just an effort on the part of the Red Sox corporate and public relations staff to promote the team at the expense of a horrific tragedy. That would have been crass. These were the players pushing this along. I remember Shondra Schilling running the Marathon year after year to benefit cancer research. Other wives ran it for other reasons ... and in almost every case, they were doing it to benefit a charity. This obviously hit home to a lot of the players, and they reacted honestly.

Now ... does this mean nobody went overboard in efforts to commercialize the slogan? Of course not. This is America, and it's become the land where nothing is beyond being exploited. I assure you that if the Red Sox never adopted the cause, someone would still have found a way to make an easy buck off the tragedy.

So lay off the Red Sox. They rallied behind this cause, and in so doing perhaps learned -- better than having it drilled into their heads by some manic coach, perhaps -- that if you pull together for a noble endeavor marvelous things can happen. It came out in the way they played, and even more important, in the way they connected with their fans.

The fans knew it, and they responded. I've never heard Fenway louder than it was Wednesday night. The fans weren't just happy for the team ... they were happy for the players who exemplified professionalism, unity and hard work from Game 1 through the end of the series. Isn't it a hell of a lot better than squabbling and nitpicking? Eating chicken and drinking beer during games? Putting your petty differences ahead of the common good? All those wonderful things we see in the news every day?

What better example could they have given the region after such a tragedy other than to pull together and keep rowing? Maybe we should all do that a little bit more, no?

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