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Monday, September 17, 2001
Sports, business resume
-- even if we're not ready


By Jim Caple
Page 2

When I was a freshman in college, a high school friend died in an auto accident the first night of my spring break. When I returned to campus a week later, there was a letter from him in my mailbox, written two days before the accident, asking when I would be coming back to our hometown during the break and when we could get together.

Barry Bonds
Even Barry Bonds' pursuit of one of baseball's greatest records won't distract us long enough.
I was reminded of that letter a couple of days ago when I went to the mailbox and pulled out the latest issues of Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazine. While the magazines were not letters from a dead friend, they were correspondence from what seemed like a prior sports life. Printed before Tuesday's attacks, both magazines reported on a life that seems so distant as to have never existed.

"Fresno?" the Sports Illustrated cover headline asked. "Yep. Unheralded Fresno State is knocking off college football's big boys."

Oh, yes. That's right. One week after upsetting Oregon State, Fresno State whipped Wisconsin. It was the No.1 topic in college football. How could I forget?

"American Revolution," read the headline of an inside story on the Williams sisters' performance at the U.S. Open. Accompanying the story was a photo of Venus and Serena wearing nothing but American flags.

Oh, yes. That's right. Last week, Venus and Serena became the first sisters in more than a century to play each other in a Grand Slam final. That was very important back then, when fans' requisite chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" still rang hollow and Americans could drape themselves in the Stars and Stripes while wearing smiles instead of choking back tears.

"Barry ... Wants It All," read the cover of ESPN magazine, with a photo of a very determined Barry Bonds. "Exclusive: In the gym with Michael Jordan," teased the headline in the top left hand corner.

Oh, yes. That's right. Last Sunday, Bonds hit three home runs in one game to move past Roger Maris' old mark and seven behind Mark McGwire's record. Last Monday night, Jordan all but came out and announced that he was ending his retirement. I read about it on ESPN.com late Monday night, just after I finished writing a piece on why I was rooting against Bonds to break McGwire's record.

The Jordan story was the last news report I read before going to bed. The last news story I read before my wife woke me with a call from the airport to tell me about the attacks. The last story before ...

That's how we see things now, isn't it? Life before and life after? And isn't this the question we're all asking ourselves now: Will our lives "after" ever be like they were "before"?

We're supposed to take the first steps toward answering that question Monday as we attempt a return to normal life. President Bush called for a "Back to Work" day. The stock exchanges reopen. New York Mayor Giuliani is telling tourists to visit New York as usual, that they may even be able to get tickets to "The Producers." And the sports world returns when baseball resumes its schedule Monday night.

Each week, Hank Williams Jr. asks us, "Are you ready for some football?" Monday night, the question is, "Are you ready for some baseball?" And for the first time in my life, my answer is, "I don't know."

Like many other columnists, I've written that we need to resume sports after an appropriate mourning period, maintaining that our games will help us heal. I definitely believe that, but I don't know how I'll feel when I return to a stadium.

Am I ready to see a game? Am I ready to step inside, with perhaps 45,000 others, what would have to be considered an obvious target should there be more attacks? Am I ready to report on a game as if it matters, while they search for bodies? Will our games offer healing or just an escape? And if it's the latter, is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn't it be healthier for our nation to watch games rather than repeated viewings of those planes crashing into the World Trade Center? Or should we be forced to keep our eyes on the screen, to share the pain and the horror as this country finally learns what it means to suffer civilian war casualties as so many other countries have?

  Each week, Hank Williams Jr. asks us, 'Are you ready for some football?' Tonight, the question is, 'Are you ready for some baseball?' And for the first time in my life, my answer is, 'I don't know.' 
 

I don't know. I'm paid to provide firm opinions and comedy, to make readers laugh or take a side. Nearly a week after the attacks -- six days into our lives "after" -- I can't do either.

It's important to note that tonight's baseball games aren't the first sporting events since the attacks. While the professional and major college teams quite rightly shut down, high school and youth leagues continued playing, which also seemed the right thing to do. I stopped by a high school football game Friday night and was reassured to find that it seemed much like every other high school game I've attended. The cheerleaders danced and asked if we had spirit, the marching bands played "On, Wisconsin," and the boys stood around talking about the girls while the girls stood around talking about the boys.

Seeing that made me feel better. And my head tells me that in time we will return enough to normalcy that we will enjoy and care a great deal about our other sports again, perhaps even soon enough that we will argue over whether Bonds should break McGwire's record or Jordan should return to the basketball court or whether Fresno State should be ranked in the Top 10.

At least, that's what my head tells me. My heart still isn't certain how to feel about sports, nor much of anything else for that matter.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.