In the wake of a major disaster, people often rally around a spectacle such as the ING New York City Marathon. I remember feeling a sense of the resiliency of the human spirit when the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants resumed 10 days after the massive Bay-area earthquake. Or the New Orleans Saints’ “emotionally charged” return to the refurbished Superdome to kick off the 2006 season against the Atlanta Falcons in a nationally televised Monday Night Football event. Or how about the Concert for New York City that took place in Madison Square Garden less than a month after 9/11?
But this Sunday may be too soon for the famed five-borough road race, some feel, in a city still wracked by power outages, storm damage and a sense that public officials and the police and fire departments should be focused on relief efforts. CNN’s Melissa Gray finds a lot of impassioned comments -- online and off -- on both sides of the issue.
"If they take one first responder from Staten Island to cover this marathon, I will scream," New York City Councilman James Oddo said on his Twitter account, reports Reuters’ Michael Erman and Phil Wahba. "We have people with no homes and no hope right now."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says “the marathon will not divert any resources from victims,” however, and pointed out Wednesday that "there's an awful lot of small businesses that depend on these people. We have to have an economy." Last year, the race brought in $340 million in local revenue and $34 million for charity, Eliza Shapiro reports in a Daily Beast piece recounting the “Backlash Amid Hurricane Sandy Aftermath,” as the hed puts it.
“I understand the controversy completely and respect all the views on this, but any decision that was made by the mayor would have been controversial and to call off the race would have been equally as controversial,” George Hirsch, chairman of race organizer New York Road Runners, tells Ken Belson in the New York Times. “By Sunday afternoon, there won’t be any controversy. People will view it as an early step in the city’s recovery.”
New York Road Runners will donate $1 million, or $26.20 for every runner who starts the race, to relief efforts, Belson reports. And two sponsors, Rudin Family and ING, will donate a combined $1.6 million. In addition, “Road Runners is working to donate other supplies to relief efforts,” he writes.
The controversial decision to hold the race “has left Canadian runners morally conflicted about running in a disaster zone” Hayley Mick reports in the [Toronto] Globe and Mail. One runner, Rick Barfoot, of Waterloo, Ont., cancelled his plans to run, saying that he “suspects that negativity, combined with logistical problems, will ruin the celebratory vibe that draws so many runners to New York.”
According to sports psychologists interviewed by the Globe and Mail’s Wendy Leung in a separate story, however, a “rallying mentality” may be positive in several ways.
“Marathons in general tend to bring people together and generate a sense of community," says Peter Papadogiannis, director of the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon Psyching Team. “Bonding over a common purpose -- in this case, to honor a storm-ravaged city –- may add another element of inspiration.”
Chicagoans were struggling with the decision, too, according to the local CBS TV station. Kimberley Stedman is one runner who “reluctantly came to the conclusion” that the marathon “just won’t have the magic it’s supposed to, given all the disruptions.”
My guess is that Sunday’s event will prove to have a mix of emotions similar to that expressed in Rick Weinberg’s piece for ESPN explaining why the ’89 Series was the 26th “Most Memorable Moment” in sports in a feature commemorating its own first quarter century. “Ten days after the quake, the World Series resumes, with heavy hearts,” Weinberg wrote. “No one really wants to play the games, knowing how meaningless a game is compared to loss of life and property.”
But two paragraphs later, he writes, “But the return of the World Series is, in a way, therapeutic for the Bay Area” -- albeit a “carefully orchestrated” therapy including a “moment of silence at 5:04 p.m., the exact moment the earthquake rocked Candlestick Park” and a rendition of San Francisco by fans in the stands along with the cast of "Beach Blanket Babylon."
You think we might hear a few bars of “New York, New York” this Sunday?