Many view sports as an escape from the real world. A place where we can leave the politics and chaos that consumes many of us on a daily basis. The sport stadium or arena has become an oasis of sorts. But this isn’t always the case. There are times when sports and world events overlap. There are times when human endurance is not just measured on the sports field, but in the streets or in the home. Sometimes, we must look at the larger picture.
Dortmund went through a trying event early this April. It was on April 11, that a man, only identified as Sergej W, hit the bus carrying Dortmund players with a bomb. One player on the bus, defender Marc Bartra was wounded in the blast. Bartra was taken to the hospital with debris in his right hand and a broken radial bone in his right arm.
It’s now believed by officials that Sergej attacked the bus with a bomb in order to capitalize on a stock market deal he had made just before the attack. Sergej had essentially bet on a drop in Dortmund’s share price (they are trading publicly) with what is called a “put option”. It was originally reported that Islamic extremism may have been responsible for the attack, but it’s now believed that Sergej staged it to look that way.
Whatever the motives, an attack is an attack. Not only did every player on that bus feel some sort of terror and will with no doubt have sleepless nights along with PTSD symptoms, but their families were undoubtedly shocked and terrified as well. While some may be given a break from their jobs following traumatic events, athletes are not in that position. As the saying goes, ‘the show must go on’. It isn’t the off season and that means that there is still much more soccer to be played.
Dortmund’s Coach Thomas Tuchel quickly protested the leagues decision to continue play for Dortmund. There would be no rest. No time to collect one’s self and try to get back in the right state of mind. Just one day after the attack, Dortmund was on the field again. But Bartra was not. He was in the hospital. All eyes were on Dortmund and while the game went on, thoughts of the bombing resonated in the minds of everyone in the stands, everyone at home, and especially the team in yellow.
Before the game, Dortmund’s players traveled to the center of the field with Bartra’s number 5 jersey and held it up to the fans. This drew a thunderous cheer from not just from Dortmund’s fans but from AC Monaco’s fans as well. It was a touching moment that transcended the bitter rivalries that can develop in sports. Before the game, Monaco fans in the stands began chanting, “Dortmund! Dortmund!”, in a show of support for the team and a gesture of solidarity with Dortmund’s fans.
This isn’t the first time that a team has gone through tragedy, but it is very unique. The entire team experienced the bombing and only one of the players was injured. Even though he didn’t die, there is still undoubtedly a feeling of guilt on the part of the players who survived the attack. These players may not only feel guilty about this bombing, but bombings or terrorist attacks anywhere else in the world. “Why did these people die in that attack but I didn’t”.
Although he is making a recovery, Bartra remains out of the game. He has been keeping fans updated on twitter though. In a recent tweet, he showed a photo of himself in a cast and tweeted, “Happy with the progress!”. He is expected to come back in about a month. As difficult of a situation this is for him and the team, other teams have had to deal with death.
Just last year, the Florida marlins lost their star pitcher, Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. They cancelled the day’s ball game and had a moving tribute to him the next time they played. This year, the entire team is wearing his number 16 patch on their uniforms. A similar situation happened in 1979 when the captain of the Yankees, Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. In that instance, the team had a memorial ceremony for him before the game.
In 1972, Uruguayan Flight 571 crashed in a remote region of Chile. The plane was carrying a Rugby team called the Old Christians Club and many of the players were killed. But some survived. The events of the crash were covered in the movie, “Alive”. Many of the players began eating the dead bodies of those who had already been killed in the crash or died afterwards.
The type of unity that was displayed in the Bundesliga league after the bombing is an example of how teams and fans from even the most passionate and sometimes brutal sports in the world can come together as one after tragedy or near tragedy. It also reminds us that while sports are a test of strength and athletic ability, we are all one human race and should help our fellow man when he is down or struggling with something.
In situations like this, it is important for the team to come together as one and play the sport. Simply declaring that you are too heartbroken or shaken is something that people, but especially professional athletes should not do. When someone becomes a professional athlete, he is taking on the role of role model, whether he likes it or not. Often times the people look to athletes as an example of how to carry on after terrible events. One example that comes to mind is Mike Piazza hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves during the first Mets game since the devastating attacks of 9/11. This sent a message to not just fans but citizens everywhere that people can and will prevail.
While this attack on Dortmund was certainly no 9/11, it shook the sports world regardless. Information about the attack was reported not just in Germany, but throughout the world. Many people in other countries were, for the first time ever, hearing about Dortmund. The image of victim is not the image that any team or fan base wants for their team. After the April 12th loss to Monaco, Dortmund needed a win. They needed to show that they were back. They got that win on April 22 when they defeated Borussia Monchengladbach by a score of 3-2. They earned another victory against FC Bayern Munich when they won 3-2.
It’s easy to lose track of what really matters. Sports exist for fun. Sports exist in the same way chess exists, to see who is more skilled at the game at hand. Unlike chess though, sports can bring large numbers of people who believe in the team together and view themselves as members of the same family. This can cause some people to get carried away in their passion for the sport. It can also cause athletes to lose track of what really matters and how at the end of the day, they are all just people who have family that love them. The road ahead will be long and challenging for the players that were in that bus, but they can lead and show the world how a team collects themselves and continues. Not just for the sport but for everyone.