Sports and the Power of Healing in the Wake of Tragedy

Hurricane Harvey has finished, causing destruction throughout the South and most notably, Houston. However, the effects left in the wake of the storm continue to affect the lives of millions of people. Although I am stationed at Fort Hood, near Austin, the effects of the storm are still visible to me on a daily basis.

Just yesterday I waited in line for 45 minutes to fill up my gas tank. The shelves in HEB (a Southern Supermarket) are emptier than normal. All this a few hours northwest of where the destruction really hit hard. Parts of Houston are still under water, homes have been destroyed and food and water have become scarce. I personally know people who have had close friends lose their homes and livelihood. Currently, other units from Fort Hood and the Texas National Guard have been mobilized to help rescue people trapped by the destruction. 


National Guard photo by Lt. Zachary West

Tragedies like this are hard to comprehend and seem to happen far too often. These are life altering events that affect communities for weeks, months, and even years to come. The healing process and return to normalcy is a long and painful process. In the immediate aftermath, people struggle to believe that their lives can ever return to what it was before. Coping and dealing with the unexpected deaths of loved ones, the destruction of homes, and the loss of livelihood take an incredible toll on the people affected. In these times, people look to many different avenues for hope, faith, the government, and family. However, often times, sports play just as important a part as all the rest.

The Players Tribune

Martin St. Louis

In 2014, the Rangers were down three games to one to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just before Game 5, Martin St. Louis received the news that his mom had unexpectedly passed away. After flying home to be with his family, St. Louis suited up with the Rangers for Game 5. After talking with his dad, they both agreed that his mother would want him to be with his teammates. While St. Louis did not score in Game 5, the Rangers won 5-1 and St. Louis was the third star. Then in Game 6, on Mother’s Day no less, St. Louis scored an emotional goal that got Madison Square Garden rocking.

The celebration and post game interview shows how much of a weight was lifted off of his shoulders. The raw emotion of the moment was available for everyone to see. Playing hockey was a way for St. Louis to heal and deal with the tragedy in his life. The Rangers went on to win the series in seven games and rode the momentum all the way to game five of the Stanley Cup Finals.

September 11th, 2001

After 9/11, the country was reeling. The most deadly attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor left the country in a state of shock and paralysis. Fear of further attacks and the uncertainty of wars to come created a sense of dread and hopelessness. In the wake of the attack, all sporting events were put on hold indefinitely to pay respect to the incredible loss of life. 

On Friday, September 21, 2001, the Mets played the rival Atlanta Braves in the first game back in New York City since 9/11. There were multiple great moments from the game including Bobby Valentine’s expression of hope and defiance during the National Anthem and once bitter rivals shaking hands in solidarity prior to the game.  However, the most iconic moment came in the 8th inning with a runner on and the Mets trailing 2-1.  Mike Piazza stepped to the plate and this happened.

While I am not a Mets fan by any stretch of the imagination, I, along with the entire country, was a Mets fan that night.  Mike Piazza and the Mets gave the country hope and something to look forward to in a time of tragedy.

Remember 9-11 and the night two rivals skated off brothers

Mark Messier Honors the Fallen

Just a few weeks later on October 7th, the Rangers had their own emotional ceremony honoring the fallen.  In another iconic moment, Mark Messier donned fallen Fire Chief Raymond Downey’s helmet.



For the full story on the helmet and story follow the link to another Full Tilt article by Dan Breeman from a few years ago.

Remembering 9/11

Yankees and W Combine for an Incredible Three Nights

Finally between the nights of October 30th and November 1st, the New York Yankees played host to three of the most memorable baseball games in history.  On October 30th President George W. Bush threw out the greatest first pitch in the history of baseball.  W walked out to the mound, ignored the ceremonial rubber placed on the grass, gave a thumbs up to the crowd and fired a strike right down the middle.


The Yankees won Game 3.  In Game 4 the Yankees were trailing 3-1 in the 9th inning with 2 outs and Paul O’Neill on 1st base.  Tino Martinez stepped up and drilled a first pitch fast ball in the Right Center seats, sending the New York crowd into bedlam.  Just one inning later, as the clock struck midnight, sending Major League Baseball into November for the first time ever, Derek Jeter stepped to the plate and hit a Game Winning Home Run down the right field line.  The very next night, the Yankees were down to their final out once again.  This time Scott Brosius stepped to the plate and hit a 2 run home run down the left field line, sending the game into extra innings.   The Yankees would walk off on an Alfonso Soriano single.

While these moments did not take away the pain and hurt, the Mets, Rangers, and Yankees all provided an outlet for New Yorkers to get away from the tragedy.  New York and the rest of the country was given hope that life would go on and that we would come out stronger than ever.

Houston and Hurricane Harvey

Today, Houston and parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are in a similar position.  The hurt and pain is unfathomable to those left untouched by the tragedy.  Once again, sports will play a large role in healing the pain and loss left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  Texans linebacker, JJ Watt is one of the leading sports figures to play a role in helping the relief effort.  As of this moment (September 4) Watt has raised over $17 Million in support of Hurricane Harvey relief.  Many other notable athletes have also raised their voices and support in order to help relive the financial burden.

Beyond the financial relief, the Houston Sports teams will be in a great position to help aid the healing process.  Currently the Houston Astros are running away with the American League West.  In addition the Astros have set themselves up well for a deep post-season run by trading for Justin Verlander to bolster their rotation that already features Dallas Keuchel and, a soon to be healthy, Lance McCullers.  That is a formidable rotation in either a five or seven game series.  Don’t be surprised if the Astros make a run to the World Series, and in doing so, help to give Houston the hope and relief they so desperately need.

Regardless of whether or not the Astros make it to the World Series or the Texans have a successful season, the mere distraction of sports will provide a positive outlet for those most affected by the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey.  While I cannot say that I will be cheering for the Astros when they meet the Yankees in the playoffs (hopefully), I can say that if the Yankees lose, I will have the consolation knowing that the Yankees loss will have provided some relief to Houston.

I’d like to close this article by encouraging everyone to help out in whatever way you can.  Find a way to help out whether it be time, supplies, or money.  It is in these times that we need to come together and show the best in our human nature.

Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Hurricane Irma. We send our love and support to all those impacted by the storm. While sports can help us cope and heal, the real heroes are all the first responders that risk their own lives to help others in need. Please do your part by making a small donation to a reputable charity. Thank you.

Go to Charity Watch to find one.


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