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PARTING SHOTS: Sports and the Moments That Change Us

By David H. Stearns, Crimson Staff Writer

Coaches and athletes love talking about moments—spans of seconds so important that they would somehow alter everything that followed in a particular game or season.

Sometimes they call these moments “momentum changers”, sometimes they call them “turning points.”

I even remember one interview in which a coach got so riled up just thinking about a single play that he proclaimed it “universe-altering.”

For four years writing Crimson Sports, I have enjoyed the privilege of watching and writing about some of the most memorable moments in Harvard sports history—moments that have made us cheer, boo, laugh, and grimace.

But now I get to do something that journalists are taught never to do: I get to write about my moments.

Writers are trained to take themselves out of the story.

We cover the emotions of an event, not our personal sentiments.

And so it seems strange, in a way, that for my final piece I reflect on my own turning points—moments that I’ve felt were so important that they somehow altered everything that has followed.

Not surprisingly, my moments revolve around sports.

Growing up in New York City, I was an avid sports fan.

I would hide my Walkman under my pillow when my mom tucked me in and would take it out as soon as I heard the door to my room close behind her.

I spent countless nights letting Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy or Mike Breen and Walt Frazier talk me to sleep—happy if the Mets or Knicks had won, frustrated if they hadn’t.

Sports were fun—a diversion.

They allowed me to put off doing homework and provided a fun topic to talk about with friends and family.

In the end, though, they still seemed trivial.

Sports are just games, and games end when the last out is made or the clock hits zero.

Then even the most passionate of fans has to return to reality.

Homework, and the rest of life, was still waiting.

But just when I thought I had the sports-and-real-world dichotomy figured out, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.

On Sept. 21, 2001, the first sporting event in New York following the September 11th attacks took place at Shea Stadium.

The city, along with the rest of the country, was reeling.

Everyone knew the world had changed. We just weren’t sure what that meant.

Into this environment came a sporting event—a trivial and unimportant game made all the more meaningless by the tragedies we had all witnessed 10 days earlier.

Yet, 50,000 of us couldn’t think of a more perfect place to be that night than at that stadium.

I went to the Mets-Braves game that night with three friends from high school.

For three hours we sat with firefighters, policemen, and relatives grieving for those they had lost.

A woman two rows behind us told us that she was using her deceased son’s tickets as a way to honor him and to heal.

She already knew what I was just learning—that by bringing us together, sports can influence reality.

They influence the way we feel, the way we act, and the way we relate to others.

The wall between sports and the real world was crumbling.

I left Shea that night convinced of the power of sports and haven’t changed my opinion since.

When I look at my group of incredible friends here at Harvard, I am struck that the common bond I share with nearly all of them is a love of sports.

I expect that when we all get together again in 10, 20, or 30 years, sports will always be a topic of conversation.

And that is the true beauty of sports.

No matter the time or the circumstances, sports stay constant.

They bring us together to cheer, boo, laugh, and grimace.

A game? Yes. Trivial? Anyone who was there that night at Shea could never think so again.

—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at dstearns@post.harvard.edu.

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