Going Forward With NYC Marathon Would Have Been Moral Affront

Lee Igel November 2, 2012 0

What should happen to sports events when the region they are being played in gets battered by a natural disaster? The answer may depend on the sport. But in the New York metropolitan area, where power, water, food, and light are all in short supply due to the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, one sport that should absolutely not be happening is a race through the city’s streets. Yet that is exactly what was scheduled to go on this weekend, as plans to run the ING New York City Marathon were rolling along while people were shivering and surviving mere blocks from where generators hum to supply power for the race.

The marathon winds all over the city. It starts in Staten Island, where the dead have not all yet been found and the wreckage is beyond description. Then, the route works its way through Brooklyn, where plenty of folks have no power, and Queens, swaths of which were on fire or leaking gas 48 hours ago. Next up is the Bronx and into upper Manhattan, where life seemed to go on as normal the morning after the storm struck. But what is to have been made of the spectacle of thousands of runners and onlookers on the streets of these boroughs, not few of which are being heavily patrolled to prevent looting?

Sports are important to communities. They can be symbolic and inspirational, and bring some sense of normalcy during a disruptive time. New Yorkers of several generations know this well—at least those who recall the weightiness of Mike Piazza’s game-winning homerun for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium ten days after the September 11 attacks.

When athletes or coaches suffer the loss of a family member, they often suit-up for the next game because they feel it is the best way to honor the deceased. When conditions make travel to an event impossible, such as the much-anticipated opening night NBA game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets at the new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, the event gets postponed. When a game is going to be played in a large stadium—like the upcoming NFL game between the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers at the Meadowlands—in the middle of gas shortages, traffic jams, sparse train service, and neighborhoods drowning in fetid sewage, then it probably ought to be rescheduled.

Maybe a case can still be made for playing football. After all, people conserving gas by not driving to the game won’t snarl the roadways; they might also still be able to watch it on TV. And aside from the possibility of the late Jimmy Hoffa, there are no dead bodies within a few football fields distance of the venue. But continuing with the New York City Marathon? How to reasonably explain to those still-suffering about failing to get them power and water but offering people in tank tops the opportunity to run by their flooded basements?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right that pressing on the with the marathon can be held up as an example of the city’s resilience. It can also provide an economic boost, as well as relieve planners, sponsors, businesses, and travelers associated with the marathon from logistical agony. But in a city as divided over running the marathon as it is by the power grid, the event does not work. It is right to have been postponed.

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