How the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington impacted the sports world
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
“One of the important things about sports is to give fans a sense of normalcy, that life can go on.” – Gary Bettman
September 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. The attacks were coordinated by al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group. In the aftermath, approximately, 2,977 people died—including 24 Canadians.
Some professional sports leagues like Major League Baseball (MLB) canceled games, while the NHL and NBA seasons had not yet begun. Across the border, the CFL season was into week 11 when the attacks occurred. The league had scheduled four weekend games for September 14 but postponed those games following criticism from fans and media.
Then CFL commissioner, Michael Lysko, conceded that numerous CFLers consulted simply changed their minds. Yet Lysko declined to admit the league had made a mistake. “This entire process has been very difficult for the entire CFL family, ownership, management, players and this office alike,” Lysko said in a statement reported by CBC News. “Our decision (Thursday) to proceed with this weekend’s slate of games, even though carefully considered, has been the subject of ongoing discussion among many of us. In light of all of the circumstances involved, several of the players, a number of general managers and coaches and even members of the CFL board of governors have simply had a change of heart.”
On October 30, 2001, then US president, George Bush, participated in a pre-game ceremonial pitch before the start of Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks at Yankee Stadium. It was the first baseball game to be played since the 9/11 attacks. Under very difficult circumstances and with a country in mourning, Bush slowly walked to the mound wearing a New York Fire Department pullover (concealing a bulletproof vest) and threw a strike down the middle; the crowd erupted in thunderous applause. The moment was galvanizing as Bush gave the impression of a heroic and a strong leader uniting and healing the country through the sport of baseball. The Bush pitch also symbolized a turning point for Americans to move forward in the face of hardship.
The NHL was also affected by 9-11. The league mourned the deaths of Los Angeles Kings Director of Pro Scouting, Garnet “Ace” Bailey and scout, Mark Bavis. Both men were aboard United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. The tragedy also affected former New York Rangers defenceman, Brian Leetch who lost a close friend named John Murray. “I was just watching that National Geographic show on 9/11 by myself. It just happened to be on,” Leetch told NHL.com in September 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “You know how it affected yourself, but everybody has a story. It’s just gut-wrenching to watch and it’s emotional. It’s 10 years now, but it’s going to be there for everybody that was directly affected. Life moves on and we move on, but you don’t forget, and you don’t lose those feelings.”
NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, also spoke about the events of 9/11. In February 2019, Bettman was part of a panel at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan. He stated that he was in Nebraska the day of the attacks. Bettman said the NHL had to eventually carry on with their hockey season; but wanted to do it respectfully and tactfully. “One of the important things about sports is to give fans a sense of normalcy, that life can go on,” he said. “At some point, particularly in the face of terrorism, you have to move forward and not let, as they say, the terrorists win. We have to resume life, and I think sports help people do that.”