Photo By Miranda Sampson/Inertia
Uncertainty can be terrifying. So, too, are today’s headlines. The dangers posed by COVID-19 hangs ominously above our heads like the sword of Damocles, suspended ever so precariously in the balance by a thread. We ask, when will life be back to “normal,” where we can gather in large groups for a barbeque, or offer praise at church. Where offices, retail stores, bars and restaurants reopen, and millions of Americans aren’t worrying about the next paycheck, or the paycheck after that, wondering in those silent moments at night, after the kids go to sleep, if they’ll be laid off.
Many questions swirl from healthcare benefits to the safety of our families. It’s a daily deluge of really hard news.
In other times, even in a national crisis like 9/11, sports were a diversion. It was an escape, a way to decompress, recharge the battery and hope. Sports draw us together as a community like few other things. I was a sophomore at North Dakota State, sitting in a Western Civilization class taught by Professor Gerald Anderson, when the first plane struck the World Trade Center on that day none will ever forget. A month later, on October 30, 2001, I remember the pride in our resiliency when President George W. Bush strode to the mound at Yankee Stadium, wearing a New York Fire Department jacket, and tossed a strike. A simple pitch, but a monumental gesture sheared into our consciousness. Fans chanted, “USA, USA, USA,” and you knew, you just KNEW, that America was stronger than ever.
Determined tears trickled down my cheeks that night, knowing that as a country, to borrow a line from John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address – where he implored us to, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” – we would “bear any burden, meet any hardship, [and] support any friend … .” We’ve seen that spirit alive in our neighborhoods and communities during these trying times.
Whether it is hearts filling windows of our homes, chalk messages decorating sidewalks, the kindness of strangers delivering meals and groceries to shut-ins, or, most importantly, the heroics of our frontline healthcare providers marching undaunted to hell’s doorstep to confront this new enemy to save a stranger’s grandpa, treat a neighbor’s sister or heal someone else’s mom. They are bearing any burden, meeting any hardship, and supporting any friend.
These acts show that what unites us is far, far stronger than anything that could ever divide us. One of those uniting forces is sports, and in particular, for readers of this magazine, North Dakota State sports. The talk now is whether there will be a college football season. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit made headlines in late March for telling a truth hard for many of us to accept, stating, “I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall if we have college football. I’ll be so surprised if that happens.”
That’s difficult to digest. Herbstreit, of course, like the rest of us, wishes the last few months living with COVID-19 were a nightmare that would simply wash over like a bad dream. Whether you cheer for NDSU, South Dakota State, Ohio State, Michigan, the Yankees or Minnesota Twins, we all want sports back.
We need sports. Not just major league or college sports, but youth sports, the tee-ball and little league games, the heroes competing in the Special Olympics – where, for generations, our kids have learned about teamwork, accountability, discipline and hard work. And just having some plain old fun and laughter.
We need sports for the same reason, as a country, we needed it in the wake of 9/11. To come together as a community. To high five or hug a total stranger because of a Bison touchdown, or Twins home run; to hear our national anthem and see the stars and stripes waving in her glory. We need sports because it creates friendships and cements bonds. I sit with my parents at every Bison home football game. I’ve been going to Bison games with my parents, grandparents, siblings and friends since 1990. The prospect of not having something that’s been such a huge part of our lives for literally decades is difficult.
The question, though, isn’t if sports will be back. Sports will be back. During World War II, much of the sports world took a necessary pause to contribute to the arsenal of democracy and save civilization from the existential threat marching across Europe and the Pacific theaters. So, too, we lived without March Madness. We might miss the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, maybe even the World Series and NDSU’s much-anticipated season opener against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. We’ll cope, we’ll adjust and most importantly, we’ll survive. When sports do come back and we can exhale, Lord Almighty, we’ll have ourselves a tailgate party for the books.
For the time being, it’s important to keep perspective. It’s important to find hope, share a smile, to call a grandparent or friend to just say, “Hey, have you seen that Tiger King show yet, what’s up with that?” or, “Are you reading anything good right now?” I was driving to work earlier today, to pick up some files, when I saw a post on the #1 NDSU Bison Fans Facebook page by Bill Wetzsteon. Talk about perspective and brightening someone else’s day. Bill’s post made me smile, the big ear-to-ear smile where you know that we’ll get through this. Bill beautifully wrote about his role model, his son, Colin. I don’t know Bill, but I hope that in the near future I can meet him and Colin at a Bison game. He starts by telling readers about Colin.
“My son, Colin, is my role model. At birth, he weighed 2 pounds and 4 ounces. Twenty-four hours later he weighed just 2 pounds and underwent heart surgery. His heart was the size of a thimble. This unfair start in life was compounded when he was sucker-punched by a coward called cerebral palsy…Colin is now 22…After all the years of hardship, Colin has endured, he wakes up with a smile and goes to bed with a smile. He laughs heartily several times a day.”
Bill goes on to talk about Colin’s love for Bison football. The post will warm your heart, and bring a tear of joy to your eye.
“I would trade any tickets from the Super Bowl to World Series for one Bison game in the Dome. (Colin would hold out for tickets in Frisco). I have never been to a Bison game without Colin and never will.”
I don’t know if Bill and Colin have been to Frisco, Bison Nation, but that’s our mission after this COVID-19 thing passes if they haven’t. The love Bill and Colin have for one another, and the love they share for Bison football is a reason for hope. It’s the reason for perspective.
The Strength of the Bison is the Herd. I wish you, your loved ones, your friends and all of Bison Nation Godspeed and the best while we get through. We will get through this, and one day, sports will be back again. When they are, we’ll welcome them back with the openest of arms and the fullest of hearts.