Sunday, we gathered in churches and other memorial sites nationwide to remember the thousands lost on that historically fateful day in September of 2001. We celebrate all things American with the start of the World Cup of Hockey this week. Yet, in a time of divisiveness and social strife in our country, it is events like this that have the power to overcome our differences and create memories that define what our country and our culture is all about.
If we’ve learned anything over the last few weeks, it’s that athletes have the ability to use their celebrity platform to create discussion of social issues facing our country. We have learned that they are not free from consequence or scorn for creating those discussions, but the beauty of these United States of America is that we are free to have the discussions in the first place. Will the recent actions of NFL athletes affect social change? Hard to say, but the idea and the concept is not new by any means. Do a quick study of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s and you’ll see that what some consider “social disobedience” is an inherent part of our country’s history. In fact, the very existence of our country is a prime example of social disobedience.
So, what does all this have to do with hockey? Great question and very observant since this is a hockey website. As I visited Missouri Mavericks FanFest on Saturday, the featured guest was none other than Ken Morrow. For those not familiar, Mr. Morrow was a member of one of our country’s greatest teams that created one of its greatest moments in the 1980 Olympics. If you wanted a definition of underdog, you saw a picture of the 1980 US Hockey team in their matchup against the Soviets. Yet, with great determination and an unmatched will, they rose above the odds and created one of the greatest “American” moments. It truly was a miracle played out on a sheet of ice.
As I watched Ken sign a puck for me (you have to get a signature on a puck with a living legend when you get the chance, right?), he signed in a gold sharpie his name and the USA Gold 1980. As I looked at that signature and inscription later, it hit me that sports had transcended all of the issues facing our country in 1980. For those blessed moments, we didn’t care about anything else other than the fact that our boys had just won the gold and America was on top of the world.
Later that evening, I watched a documentary on the events that had unfolded on that Tuesday in September fifteen years ago. Like many, I remember exactly where I was when the events of that day happened. For me, I was a sophomore in college and just happened to turn on the news that morning before heading to class. I watched as the second plane hit the World Trade Center and somewhere in my heart I knew we would never be the same. This would be my generation’s JFK moment where we all knew where we were that day. But, a powerful moment occurred for me a couple of weeks later as my college marching band, Central Missouri State University, performed at Arrowhead Stadium for the first game since September 11th. The opponent that day…none other than the New York Giants. As 79,000 Americans raised their voices that day to sing the Star Spangled Banner, it had never sounded sweeter to me. As the players stood holding flags and the first responders stood around the field, it felt uniquely American and it felt right. We were beginning the healing process and standing tall in the midst of great adversity. Again, sports had transcended culture and society.
In those moments, separated by 21 years, it didn’t seem to matter what color our skin was, what religious beliefs we held, or what candidate we would be voting for. It didn’t matter if we agreed with the President, Vice-President or Supreme Court. We were brothers and sisters brought together by triumph and by loss. We celebrated together and we mourned together. We cheered side by side as hard as we would later fight side by side.
We. Were. Americans.
We were brought together by our common belief that our freedom was paid for by the blood of many who wanted to see future generations enjoy the same freedom that they had. That freedom includes acts of what some would call social disobedience.
So, as we gather as a hockey nation to watch our boys in red, white and blue participate in the World Cup of Hockey this week, maybe, just maybe, we’ll once again see something special. Perhaps T.J. Oshie will perform another heroic Herb Brooks “Again” moment in a shootout or maybe the boys will channel a Ken Morrow moment and overcome the odds against them. Either way, hopefully we’ll be Americans again and continue to come together despite our differences. Perhaps we’ll transcend our cultural differences and once again be uniquely American.
Happy Hockey, America.