When Sports Should Be Left For Later

There is a generally accepted idea that group healing is important. Argentina in 2002 was reeling from economic devastation and there was a lot of talking going into the World Cup that a win by the albiceleste could put the country back on track through some sort of cathartic party. Or something. Japan, the conventional wisdom went, would be aided in its recovery from the March 2011 tsunami if only their women could win that year’s World Cup. You’d have to ask the Japanese if that really did work.

This past week the eastern seaboard of the United States was hit by Hurricane Sandy. I blogged during the middle of it and referenced some of the disaster that had befallen people here, but my glib mention of yoga and surfing the Internet was before the reality truly set in. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it really has. As of now, there are millions of people without electricity, running water, and access to basic needs like food and warmth. The temperature is going down, thirst is creeping in, and people are trapped in their apartment buildings by the lack of power. The Rockaways were devastated. Red Hook was submerged. Coney Island lost its boardwalk. And that’s just in Brooklyn. The Jersey Shore is almost nonexistent. North Carolina’s coastal highways are buckled into Dr. Seuss stairways that lead to nowhere.

And on Sunday, the New York City Marathon will go off as planned.

Take Staten Island: 90% without power, flooded basements, destroyed homes. There are reports (as of yet unverified, but making the rounds on Twitter and via network news–I heard it on CBS this afternoon) that hotels are kicking out people there to make room for marathoners with reservations. The city has set up generators and water stations while swaths of the city remain without power or access to that vital, liquid substance that will be doused on runners. There will be foil wraps and orange slices for the finishers while there will be long lines and handouts of batteries and candles for those lucky enough to live near relief centers.

And on Sunday, tens of thousands of men and women will run through all five boroughs for recreation.

Sure, if you look hard enough, you’ll find a few pictures out there of me cleaning up small businesses in Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the total hours of that volunteering (8 or so) is less than I’ve spent playing FIFA13 or sitting on barstools since Sandy came through. I watched the disaster porn that is network TV news and Twitter for hours. Since Tuesday morning, I’ve cycled through hundreds of pictures of boats on streets and train tracks, lines at gas stations and food banks, and flooded subway stations. I’m getting paid to sit around and have a staycation.

My point is that I’m not a moral authority on anything and I certainly can’t point the finger at anyone for not helping on a personal level. The argument for the marathon is it will be cheering and a sense of normalcy. There will be hugging and crying and people running on costumes to remind us all that human spirit conquers adversity. Maybe the world will see what is really happening here and react accordingly. The marathon is a major charity event, with millions of dollars pouring into the coffers of various groups. We’ll be conquering so many things with this money.

Except, of course, that this rings hollow when the camera pans to the side and there’s a family hunkered down for the night against below freezing temperatures. The news coverage is 24/7 already. People have seen Atlantic City being overwhelmed, they looked at videos of the Breezy Point’s fire, and have gasp along with the workers going down into the subway for the first time. Most of us can pick the fake pictures on Twitter out from the real ones without batting an eye. What catharsis is the marathon or any sporting event going to provide that heat to an apartment building won’t? What will giving Gatorade to joggers do to help the family that lost their house and now have nowhere to stay? The generators they’re using for media tents could power 400 homes.

I don’t claim to know what it costs to cancel a marathon, but I also don’t claim to care. I know people train for months, sometimes years to run in the NYC marathon. I know some have traveled from around the world for this. I know the organizational intensity of these things because I’ve witnessed it first hand each of the last 4 years. But no, I won’t be watching Barça-Celta tomorrow and I won’t be attending the marathon. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be knee-deep in someone’s basement tossing the rotting, destroyed remnants of their life to the curb or removing the walls of their tumbled homes from their streets so emergency vehicles can pass. People who need a place to shower and get some hot food will be at my house. Friends will be staying with us.

Sports heal us emotionally. Sports are cathartic when they’re not diverting police and emergency teams from those who are literally dying rather than cramping. Bloomberg says the city will remain uncowed by the hurricane and as such will “fight through the pain” to pull off a road race that could easily be delayed a few weeks to allow for recovery efforts. It is unacceptable and it is unconscionable to continue with this plan.

Categorized as Soap Box

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Thank you for this post.
    Well thought-out: if anything, it made me straddle the fence even more.

  2. Hey Isaiah, that is one of the nicest reads I have read in my recent memory. Thanks for the wonderful post.

  3. I agree to a point. Obviously I don’t live in New York City and don’t really know what you are experiencing. I completely understand why people without power or subways or a place to sleep would be angry at the perceived callousness of this event going on.

    But you shouldn’t discount the huge amount of money this event brings in to the city so easily. Some of that money will go to the very charities that are organizing the relief work. They can certainly use it. Another big chunk of that money will be spent by visitors to the city in businesses of all kinds. Businesses that are themselves struggling to get through this crisis without going under.

    It is also not as easy as you think to delay a marquee event like this for “a few weeks”. Like tennis, or ski racing, or other similar events, there is a meticulously planned international schedule of competitions. Delaying this one would interfere not only with other events, but with the training schedules of the athletes themselves. It probably was a tough choice between running as scheduled or cancelling completely.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with your point about this race diverting police & emergency crews from disaster relief efforts. It would be better if the race organizers could bring in their own security and emergency personnel from elsewhere.

    Anyway, I hope you and yours are well, and I admire you for all the work you have been doing in your neighbourhood and helping people out.

  4. I personally disagree, though I understand your sentiment. I’ve been through five hurricanes, had my house flooded, been without power for 3 weeks before. I went to a football game in the middle of all of that, and it felt great. It WAS cathartic and wonderful.

    1. Is there a question of scale in your mind? One of the things about a single football game (American or soccer) is that you can go and it’s self-contained in a sense. The marathon goes throughout all of the boroughs and takes a massive police effort.

      I get the idea that it’s cathartic and I actually love the marathon, but there were people literally within sight of the Staten Island media tent who had lost their homes and had no electricity. It seems unconscionable to divert any large scale resources to a major sporting event when those resources can really save lives right next door.

      And all of that said, I love sports and believe in their ability to bring people together. I believe that there are places (New Jersey, Haiti) that were much worse hit by this storm than my neighborhood, but I think what I said stands. There’s too much we could be doing instead of running marathons for our very own neighborhoods.

    2. I also hope that didn’t come off as an attack against you. I am legitimately asking a question. This is the first time I’ve lived through a hurricane and it’s been extremely easy for me because nothing happened to my home or family (fortunately, thankfully).

    3. I didn’t take it as an attack at all. I have actually been very fortunate myself in hurricanes. Had 16 trees fall around our house (when we were hit with back to back hurricanes) and all of them avoided the house with one landing one inch short. When the house was flooded we were able to move everything up without anything getting destroyed. I was outside fixing a pump in a hurricane so our house wouldn’t flood, and I had a large branch fall next to me. If it had hit me, I probably would have been seriously injured. So I’ve had a lot of luck surviving hurricanes, and I definitely take the misfortunes of others seriously, helping out when I can. I can understand the sentiment around the marathon being different in NY. For me an escape is needed. If the Knicks vs. Nets game hadn’t been cancelled, and I lived in NYC, I would have gone to the game and cheered my head off despite not rooting for either team!

    4. I suppose it maybe was the self-contained nature, but probably it was more the community based nature. As in the crowd was mostly people affected, so they were there to celebrate, commiserate, and forget about their problems. It’s different watching other people celebrate when you are feeling miserable.

  5. OT: Intresting bit of stats :
    Age diff bw Leo Messi (24/6/87) & C. Ronaldo (5/2/85) : 869 days. Age diff bw Thiago Messi (2/11/12) & C. Ronaldo JR (17/6/10): 869 days.
    Bit of a coincidence, no?

    1. meaning, they were the exact same age when they became dads.

      but if you think about it, 869 days — 8 + 6 + 9 = 23, which is a prime number. but if you add 2+3= 5, which when multiplied by 2 (the number of players, messi + ronaldo) you get 10, which is messi’s number.

      furthermore, 869 rearranged is 689, which is a consecutive series with the number 7 omitted, which is ronaldos number.

      this bit of numerology proves that messi is better, does it not?

  6. You called for it Isiah. The marathon is now cancelled by the mayor of NY, Michael Bloomberg.

  7. No way they should have tried to hold that marathon. It’s unbelievable to me that they even thought about going forward with it.

    The question is about the timing. This was too soon, right in the middle of the suffering. There is a fine line between sports being cathartic and being downright insensitive. If the marathon were to be held a month from now, when people have a roof over their heads, food, medical and water distribution has reached them and the recovery effort is well underway, then great. Not in the middle of the disaster. Just not now.

  8. Thanks for writing this, Isaiah. I agree completely. You conveyed very well that at this time, resources are a far, far higher priority than spirit. Seeing pictures of those freight container-sized generators powering the media tents, when around the corner homes have not had power for days, if they were still standing… It made me cry. And angry.

  9. editors, feel free to remove this comment.

    First Katrina, now Sandy. Even the most powerful country in the world once again proves itself defenseless against climatic changes.

    Yet during the electoral debates not a peep from either candidate about the changes our society must make in order to keep our planet inhabitable for the foreseeable future.

    Our heads are buried so deeply in the sand we can barely move our feet…

    1. that’s probably because we didn’t care about it. nobody asked the questions or drove the conversation that way, candidates aren’t gonna talk about things noone seems to care about. Rosell will be reticent about the club funds until someone drags that conversation into the picture and enough people show interest.

  10. I always feel bad for the children born to huge legends.
    in certain ways they’ll have it easy, but in many ways they are bound to feel like crap with the weight of expectations and the inevitable constant comparison.
    anyhow, welcome to the world, thiago.
    wonder how this will affect lionel’s game.

    1. I hope he doesn’t follow in Jordi’s footsteps. 2 trick pony. Always uses 2 bit of skills. Quite useful though for him on the right flank.

  11. The New York City Marathon was canceled yesterday. They said they could host it but it would not be right in light of the circumstances of the disaster.

  12. You definitely haven’t done your homework on this one. I’m not sure how you could miss the cancellation of the marathon. It was on the news yesterday and I heard it on the radio. I understand your frustration of priorities, but they did get it right. Here’s a link from 17 hours ago stating that Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the Marathon


    1. Isaiah’s post came prior to the official cancellation of the marathon IIRC. It wasn’t an issue of not doing his “homework.” It was just timing.

    2. Well Isaiah’s blog entry is older than 17 hrs.

      I think the mayor left it very late to call off the Marathon. All the resources, both human and material, used to organize this event would have been better spent helping those effected by hurricane Sandy.

      Of course, people stand to make a lot of money off of the NY Marathon – the very same people who tend to have a lot of clout in mayor’s offices…

    3. I realized that Isaiah’s post came before the cancellation after I posted. I want to apologize to Isaiah because my comments were not meant as a personal attack on his credibility as a writer/researcher. Sometimes I jump the gun on posting without all of the facts, like reading through everyone’s comments before I post! My bad. I have a sore spot in my morals when it comes to irresponsible journalism ans sensationalism of facts. That’s what I perceived was happening until I read through the comments section and saw Isaiah’s post about the twitter report. Isaiah, I’m sorry. Please accept my apology.

  13. So you’re from New York Isaiah? It’s nice of you to volunteer. I can’t imagine how tough it is especially when the waters are close to freezing.

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