Suns Have Obligation to Those who Protect and Serve

Over 50 times last season I stood up, placed my hand over my heart and listened to a different rendition of the national anthem from my seat at US Airways Center and other arenas around the NBA. Regardless of pitch, key or any of the other musical terms I’ve heard on The Voice or American Idol and since forgotten, each was perfect and special. That’s because, each time I heard it, the song reminded me of what happened 12 years ago to our country, how we were taken to our knees, got back up and how sports played a part in the healing.

I’m not going to say that the events of 9-11 put sports into perspective. That explanation is somewhat of a copout. Sports should always be kept in perspective. Even as a 10-year-old I didn’t need Charles Barkley to tell me he was “not a role model.” He was completely right in his assessment and the medium he chose to express it in, a shoe commercial, made the point quite clear.

The athletes we root for aren’t heroes or role models, they’re men paid handsomely to play a game we enjoy to watch. True heroes and role models are the brave souls who were first responders 12 years ago, the men and women who tried to stop hijacked planes from reaching their intended targets and those who chose to put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. That doesn’t mean sports wasn’t and still isn’t impactful, though.

In the days and weeks that followed the heinous and cowardly attacks on our country, sports offered an escape for all of us who couldn’t get the images of that day to stop playing in our brains. It gave us a slim sense of normalcy we’d lacked for weeks.

For me that moment came when the Suns returned to training camp at the beginning of October that year. As a high school senior, that moment was when my friends and I, who had loved basketball since we were kids, could talk about something other than the heavy reality that the world we were so eager to inherit from our parents had dramatically changed in a way no disaster movies or television dramas could ever have prepared us for.

With each bounce of the ball, and “shazaam” that emanated from Al McCoy’s mouth, a comfort returned to life slowly. It was a reminder of the fact that as sports fans, and more specifically Suns fans, we share a common language and bond. Despite race, color, creed and socioeconomic standing, thousands of people come together at sporting events, put aside their differences and enjoyed something together.

That thought has always been powerful to me as I grew up and was lucky enough to work in the sports world. The Suns and every organization in sports can play a special role in the lives of their fans. They can help lift spirits and provide a safe haven from the cruel and harsh outside world.

Whether it’s a young fan who lost his father, a kid who is lost in the struggles of growing up or a nation who had just felt one of its most devastating moments, teams and those who work for them have a responsibility to try and lift spirits. Players and employees might not be heroes or role models, but it’s our responsibility to never forget the sacrifices those who watch us and cheer for us in the stands and those related to them have made for our freedom.

Every time I hear the national anthem at a game I remember days like today 12 years ago, remember the sacrifices that have been made for our country and the comfort that a simple game can provide no matter when or where it is played. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave and any way sports can help lift the spirits that make that possible, it's our obligation to do it.