Commentary

This Sporting Life: Seven. 9/11.

Originally Published: September 11, 2009
By Jeff MacGregor | Page 2

7 SubwayAP Photo/Mary AltafferFrom the belly of Times Square to the sunlight of Queens, the No. 7 train is a moving exhibit of the American melting pot.

It is the special madness of every great society to think itself unique, to believe itself one of a kind, somehow outside human experience or precedent and thus beset by troubles unknown to anyone anywhere in history, in times too dire to describe. This was as true 7,000 years ago at the dawning of Mesopotamia as it was the night before last on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is a conceit based in fear and ignorance and which authorizes and underwrites a lot of poor and desperate behavior.

So Friday morning's monsoon rainout and reschedule at the U.S. Open brings around an opportunity for a few words, short not sweet, about sadness and joy and bad anniversaries, about long shots and one-shots and the prospects for our common redemption.

I spent the middle of last week riding the No. 7 subway out to Flushing Meadows for the Open. To see Oudin, Nadal, Serena. The 7 line begins deep underground at Times Square in Manhattan, makes a short crossing in mineshaft darkness beneath the East River, then rises up out of the ground and blinks back into the light once you're in Queens. The whole zigzag trip takes about 25 minutes if you're on the local headed out to watch the tennis or the Mets at Citi Field, just across the tracks at the same station.

The genius of the U.S. Open these past 30 years, since its arrival at the National Tennis Center -- built on what were once the ash heaps of "Gatsby" and which became the grounds of the 1939 and 1964 New York World's Fairs -- is the playing of a white-collar championship in blue-collar circumstances.

It is the genius of the 7 train itself, however, that might save us all.

Remember, it was exactly 10 years ago that John Rocker, ham-necked hillbilly fireballer for the Atlanta Braves, said the following to Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated when asked if he'd ever play ball for a team in New York City:

"I would retire first. It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."

The very thing that Rocker feared most -- people different than himself -- is of course the genius and the miracle of that 7 train. It is the miracle of New York City and the genius of the melting pot and the miracle of America, too.

The peaceful coexistence of strangers.

Ride a rush-hour 7 train to the evening matches and you'll see as many hardhats and tool bags and lunch pails as you do briefcases or puffy sneakers or Fred Perry sweaters. If there's room, the businesswomen slide off their high heels and rub their feet; Manhattan's nannies, up from Guatemala, do the same with their Vans. Riders read the Post, the Daily News, El Diario La Prensa. Thugs laugh and flirt with nursing students; cops laugh and glare at thugs; pencil-thin hipsters clutch their guitar cases a little tighter, turn up their iPods, lower their eyes. English, Spanish, Urdu, Mandarin, Tagalog and Pashto, Greek and Portuguese, passing in a blur just out the window there's a restaurant for every language spoken on Roosevelt Avenue.

Shoulder to shoulder, six dozen skin colors packed tight, somehow we all get where we're going.

Eight years ago today came all the evidence we'll ever need to understand the uselessness, the lifelessness, of a world made only out of "us" and "them."

So we await a rescheduled Open. Until then, I turn my thoughts to a 7 train heading east, briefly in darkness then up into the light, every single subway car an ark.

And to regular readers of this column, good news. Parwez Kambakhsh, mentioned just last Friday, has been released from prison.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question: "What Are Sports For?" You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com.