This certainly isn ?t the topic I was planning on for this week, but an unimaginable tragedy struck Pittsburgh on Saturday and now our city faces a long road back to normalcy. Pittsburghers are tough, but also compassionate. That was never more evident than in the hours and days following the shootings as lines to donate blood were out the doors and a Go Fund Me page to help the victims has already raised nearly $900,000.
Even with the outpouring of support from all over the world, sometimes a diversion from all of the news coverage, if only for a few hours, can be helpful. Sports can serve as that diversion. As we heard from many players with Pitt football, the Steelers, and the Penguins, a tragedy like this puts the importance of sports into perspective, but Pittsburgh ?s sports teams also hope they can provide a few hours of refuge from a tragic situation.
College and professional sports teams play an important role in the community that reaches well beyond what they do on the field or ice. Unfortunately, in recent years hockey teams have too often been at the center of helping communities heal after terrible tragedies that marred their communities. The point of this article is not to make teams or athletes seem like heroes, because they ?re not; the real heroes are the first responders and those that protect others during these acts of hate and terror. The point is that sports teams can provide a common thread by which all people in a city can unite.
In 2014, the Ottawa Senators helped their town, and all of Canada begin the healing process after a shooting at the Parliament Hill left Cpl. Nathan Cirillo dead and three injured. The shooting sent shockwaves across Canada. The game between the Senators and Maple Leafs was cancelled that night, but when the Senators arrived back home they paid tribute to Cpl. Cirillo and those who were wounded with a moment of silence and an emotional performance of ?O ? Canada ? that was performed simultaneously in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto as a sign of unity across Canada.
A year earlier in Boston, the Bruins did what they could do to try to help their city heal after the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured more than 170. On April 17, 2013 the Bruins hosted Boston’s first sporting event after the bombing and Bruins players and team staff combined to donate 80 tickets for to first responders. Owner Jeremy Jacobs also donated $100,000 on behalf of the entire team for The One Fund Boston, which was established to raise money for those affected by the horrific event. TD Garden, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association also donated $50,000 each. Here ?s the video of the moving tribute the Bruins put together that night.
The worst mass shooting in the history of the United States occurred in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 when a gunman opened fire on concert-goers at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. The massacre killed 59 and injured more than 800. Prior to the unfathomable tragedy, the city was abuzz in anticipation of the Vegas Golden Knights ? inaugural game, but that excitement quickly turned to sorrow and the Golden Knights did what they could to begin the healing process. Many players visited victims in area hospitals, the team organized a victim ?s fund to which people could donate, and the NHL and the Foley Family Charitable Trust donated $300,000 to the victims and first responders. Also, who could forget the moving scene where first responders accompanied the Golden Knights players onto the ice and Las Vegas resident and Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland gave this very moving speech.
Sadly, just four months later, a terrible tragedy struck at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A 19-year old gunman stormed the school, killed 17 and injured over a dozen more. The incident occurred just 20 minutes from Sunrise, Florida the city that the Panthers call home. In the days and weeks that followed the Florida Panthers took many of the students, particularly members of the hockey team, under their wings and invited them to practices and games. Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo lives in the Parkland area and took the tragedy very personally as evidenced by this emotional speech.
On Tuesday night in Pittsburgh it was a similar scene. A city in mourning using its hockey team as an escape, but also a means to unify. The Penguins lost the game, but the more important activities took place off the ice. On Monday, the Penguins held a blood drive that drew 254 donors. On Sunday the Penguins Foundation made two donations of $25,000 to support the victims and families. Also, the jerseys that the Penguins wore on Tuesday with the ?Stronger Than Hate ? patches are now available for auction at treeoflife.givesmart.com. All proceeds from the jersey auction and the Penguins ? other fundraising efforts, including Tuesday ?s 50/50 Raffle, will benefit the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and a fund established by the City of Pittsburgh Department of Safety to benefit police officers wounded during the attack.
The outcomes of games and success of sports teams are rightfully minimized during these times of tragedy. During these times people often look for a means to return to normalcy. In some small way hockey can be a means of both respite and unity that is needed during this difficult time. The Penguins tribute video said it best ?.
? Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 30, 2018