In an instant, nothing else mattered. Nothing else should have mattered at least. Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast, flooding subway tunnels, cancelling thousands of flights and affecting millions of lives.
Just a few days later, though, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, announced that the New York Marathon would go on as scheduled. However, after mass public backlash, Bloomberg reversed the decision, cancelling the race, which draws in over 47,000 runners from around the world. Nothing else mattered; not the $315 million stimulus the race was estimated to provide to local businesses and hotels, not the thousands of athletes who had been training years for this weekend, not the welcome distraction the race would have provided. The suffering of the five boroughs was too widespread to justify the mass infrastructure needed to support the event.
A few men and women jogging down Broadway could not undo the estimated $20 million of damage. A few happy hours would not rebuild the homes lost or bring back power to the region.
While sports can be a powerful healer, signaling a return to normalcy and often giving communities a cause to rally around, this was not the right time or place. Not when marathon runners would be splashing cool water on their faces while just blocks away people were struggling to find this very basic necessity.
Bloomberg was able to overlook the vested interests and make the best decision for his community in a time of tragedy. He made a bold move, putting sports in its rightful place, behind the plights of thousand of shivering and homeless people on Staten Island, after the millions without power in Manhattan and beyond.
Listen, sports have a place in society, somewhere in front of the Kardashians and right behind a good political scandal (see: Patraeus, David). But this wasn’t it.
Soon after his decision to cancel the marathon, Bloomberg made another very public proclamation, again citing Hurricane Sandy as one of the primary motives behind his sudden moment of clarity. He didn’t cite health care, the economy or even foreign policy as the primary force behind his actions, though. No, he addressed the elephant in the room that had been almost completely neglected throughout this campaign season: climate change. He entitled his endorsing op-ed “A vote for a president to lead on climate change,” saying that the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy “brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.”
Unfortunately, the rest of society hasn’t experienced the apparent clarity that Bloomberg experienced after the mass ruin of much of the Eastern seaboard. CNN and company were more concerned with showing before and after shots of the devastation wrought by the hurricane.
It takes a tragedy to put things in perspective, but it seems not even that does it for large swaths of society anymore. While the region continued picking up the pieces over the weekend, sports events resumed throughout the East, reminding everyone what is really most important: another New York Giants win.
The poor Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t even fly to New Jersey to play the Giants a night early, sending pundits on ESPN into a tizzy, wondering if this bit of misfortune put the Steelers at a competitive disadvantage, as if nothing mattered more than the Steelers being able to fly to New York a night early to acclimate to the foreign land of Manhattan.
Hopefully Bloomberg’s decision serves as a harbinger for reviewing the place of sports in our culture, something others can point to as a moment of putting millions of homeless before the millions of dollars made during each sporting event. More importantly, let’s hope his insistence on acknowledging the real issues facing society serves as an impetus to have a real dialogue about issues facing this country.
“I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics,” Bloomberg wrote, echoing the sentiments of many frustrated with the political gridlock in Washington.
His call is a simple one: To put people above the passion of sport, to put reason before partisanship and to put the future above the past.
In a culture run by passion, his thoughts are all too refreshing, reflecting the thoughts of many who silently scorn the increasing polarization fueled by the fervor of increasingly extremist individuals. Likewise, the passion many feel towards sports has overtaken the airwaves, driving out any trace of rational thought the talking heads were hanging on to.
Climate change is just one of the results of this zeal, as we enjoy watching storm chasers driving down the latest twister much more than we enjoy watching PBS specials about our changing atmosphere and its effects on the ozone layer. And of course, we love watching a good Olympics more than anything.
And hey, this election’s over now — Bloomberg 2016, anyone?