Tuesday, May 07, 2013

There is a time, and there is a place. This is not the time, the hallowed rink is not the place.


  A friend posted the picture at the end of this essay onto my Facebook page. I had seen it posted elsewhere, as well. Always with a response of incredulity from others. I took great offense at what seemed to be a fan's callous response to recent events that occurred in Boston, on Patriots' Day, Marathon Day. As an avid Boston sports fan I know that we have a reputation for oft-times being, well, fanatical. Some would call us rabid. And at times we have deserved it. But we have also shown our compassion for fellow sports fans in times of need. Despite an unprecedented and unequaled rivalry with New York sports teams, Bostonians came together to support and comfort our NY rivals in the days and months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. On 4/15/2013 it became Boston's time to turn to each other but also to our rivals for comfort. Most teams and cities responded with utmost compassion. On Monday, May 6, 2013, someone in the Toronto area made the unfortunate decision to hand out large posters to Maple Leaf fans that proclaimed TORONTOSTRONGER along with a facsimile of the BOSTONSTRONG blue and yellow striped ribbon. That ribbon graphic is a sacred symbol for many organizations, in this case representing Boston's response to the tragic events during the week of April 15th that ended in four deaths of innocent victims and life-changing injuries to well over 150 others. It is not a sports logo. 

 I was born in Boston, grew up in Western MA. So though I now live in Ohio, my heart is and always will be in Boston. So naturally, like other Bostonians and New Englanders at home and scattered throughout the world, I have been touched by this tragedy. And when I saw that photo of a man holding that professionally made sign in Toronto I was, as we say in Boston, pissed. Wicked pissed. And so, as I have done in other times of great emotional response to a situation, whether through anger or jubilation, I took to the keyboard. I am not only posting these remarks to my blog, I am sending them to the owners of The Toronto Maple Leafs and of Air Canada Center, as well as to the people of Toronto through local media outlets. I don't expect much to happen in response, but wouldn't it be nice if Boston players and fans did not have to be subjected to the insensitivity of whomever is responsible for allowing these signs to be waved in our faces during Wednesday night's game? I know, it sounds ironic for a Boston fan to ask another team's fans to show a little sensitivity but there are some issues that one just does not make light of.

  A few years ago I had occasion to celebrate my fiftieth birthday with my six siblings and their children. Anywhere I wanted to go, anything I wanted to do. So we checked and found the Red Sox would be playing the Blue Jays two weeks or so after my birthday, in Toronto. As we are wont to do when planning a family gathering, one person was put in charge of the hotel accommodations, one in charge of tickets, one for food, one for an after game party, etc. We all looked forward to our time in Toronto. All thirty or so of us! When we arrived, we were delighted to learn we had pretty good rooms in a nice downtown hotel. Arriving in the early evening we felt comfortable as we roamed about, checking out the area before returning to the hotel for a party. The next day we showed up at the park and, lo and behold my only brother, who was in charge of getting the tickets, had instead taken care of the tickets and the food, renting the former owner's double suite for the game, complete with servers and catering! And bathrooms! It is an experience that is still talked about to this day, as we approach our youngest sibling's milestone birthday, which we will celebrate in Vegas. All of that to show that my only experience with Toronto, personally, was a good one that left a lasting impression! We left a little worn because, cheer and sing as hard as we could, our beloved Sox dropped a game to your beloved Jays that cold, fall day. But due to some great Toronto hospitality we survived that loss and enjoyed our brief trip. Immensely.

 Much of my extended family and the friends we've made over decades still live in the Boston area. A small number of them were involved in the aftermath of the recent terrorist bombings that occurred during the running of the Boston Marathon last month. Some were volunteers, some were runners just about to reach the finish line, some were just spectators celebrating Patriots Day as we do every year in Massachusetts. It's our official first day of spring, a celebration of the battles of Lexington and Concord and the people who brought forth a new nation. Some of our family members and friends were involved in town lock-downs for the days after the race or prevented access to their apartments above the finish line until the blocks-long crime scene was released by The Department of Homeland Security. 

 As a city with citizens and fans all over the country and the globe, we found ourselves rallying under two words that have been helping to bring and to hold us together through these trying times. OUR two words...BOSTONSTRONG. We have used these words to honor victims,survivors, responders, and their families as they struggle with the anger, and the hate, and the fear, and the love, the pity and the strength, the questions and reassurances, exchanging their past dreams with new ones, attending to centuries-old-fashioned injuries with new high-tech, state-of-the-art solutions. We are Boston . We will persevere. We are BOSTONSTRONG. Those two words have been used all over the world as a symbol of support, of solidarity, of respect for the people of Boston, and never more so than in arenas and playing fields and hockey rinks as Boston's Bruins and Celtics ended winning seasons and reached playoff series' while the infamous Red Sox came screaming back into town with new players and new dreams. In a sports town, if you had to be stuck in a hospital for a couple of days, these were the ones most of us would choose. And we have chosen to use our teams, no, our teams have chosen to honor us, with two words. BOSTONSTRONG. Our words. BOSTONSTRONG. And so I hope you can understand how much those words mean to those of us who believe in them so much that millions of us changed avatars, profile pics, and cover photos on social media apps, how many of us tweeted or facebooked or IMed those two words to loved ones, people we saw the day before the bombings, people we haven't seen in decades. Those two words are now ensconced in Boston vernacular. We have seen them on the playing fields, the basketball courts, the ice rinks of our friendly rivals and our strongest foes. Solidarity. Support. And a love of sport that brings us all together.

  What some may not know about those two words is they are also a cry for help. A request for donations for the three families who lost loved ones on Monday, the family who lost a loved one on Thursday night, those victims so seriously wounded by the bombings and the car chase. Their lives have been forever changed and they face insurmountable debt for lifelong care, costly rehabilitation and retraining, psychological care, etc. and so we use these two words to help raise funds: BOSTONSTRONG. And we ask that others respect that, and allow us that, without substituting their town names so they might profit from Boston's troubles and pain. We would like to think any signs we have seen so far were done with honest feelings of support, one fan trying to find a way to comfort another. But the best way you could show that support would be to wave a "BOSTONSTRONG" sign in our honor, even in your team colors! 

  I don't write this in any official capacity. I write it from my heart, for my family and friends, for the first responders, the victims' families and friends, and for the survivors and their families and friends. For all of us who began a day celebrating the survivors of one massacre only to end the day as witnesses to another, opening us up to a new war on our soil. I write it to you to ask that your Maple Leafs fans do not show TORONTOSTRONGER signs during their contests with the Bruins, out of respect for the true meaning of the BOSTONSTRONG symbol, stripes, and words. We ask that you not allow your advertisers (these signs appear to have been professionally printed) or your fans to co-opt this campaign and take away from the seriousness of it or its intent. Our signs are a show of thanks to our community of first-responders, our medical community, the victims' families, the survivors and their families, and for a community that, already close, has been brought even closer in response to a terrorist attack. Your fans need to know this is not a slogan we are using lightly to cheer on our teams. THIS NOT ABOUT A COMPETITION. We are serious about our hockey but we know what comes first in our hearts. The slogan is not for the teams, it is for the people of Boston. If The Toronto Maple Leafs, Air Canada Centre, or Toronto fans would like to show their support for those affected by the bombings, they can do so by making a donation to The One Fund Boston at https://secure.onefundboston.org/page/contribute/default which would be greatly appreciated by the Boston community as we carry on a centuries-old tradition of being BOSTONSTRONG!
 Hopefully we won't see the appearance of these signs again. Toronto, the ball is in your court. The puck is in your zone. Show us the class we know you have. Show us some respect. Trash talking belongs on the ice.