Indianapolis Star – Feb 4, 2003 – David Woods – Attending a basketball game Saturday might have been therapeutic for Americans who had just learned that seven astronauts were killed aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
The nation was already coping with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military action in Afghanistan and a possible war in Iraq.
“Wham. It’s like one more thing,” said sports psychologist John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, Fla. “How do you deal with that? Where do you put that?
“Sports is definitely a relief from a lot of this.”
Another sports psychologist, Chris Carr of Methodist Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, said there was no right or wrong response for sports administrators deciding what to do about events scheduled Saturday. What large crowds can do, Carr said, is offer an opportunity to honor the astronauts.
“That’s where the sports world provides healing,” he said. “I think it provides some really choice opportunities for people to come together.”
Murray said the shuttle catastrophe, although a national shock, was not as threatening as attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Although space science has come to be taken for granted, he said, the astronauts and public understand the risks. The Columbia was a grim reminder.
Some people turn inward after such a tragedy, Murray said, and others look to sports as a diversion.
“You have to understand that grief is such an individual experience,” he said.
The near-universal response of the sports community was that the games went on. One exception was at Florida Tech, which postponed its men’s and women’s basketball games. Florida Tech is about 22 miles south of the NASA site at Cape Canaveral.
“We have astronauts come in to our master’s program, and we have graduates that work at the Cape,” Florida Tech athletic director Bill Jurgens said. “We’re very much a part of the Cape, and they’re very much a part of the community.”
At games across the country, including Indianapolis, a moment of silence was observed before the national anthem.
That was done at Butler University, which was going to do so even before it received a directive from the Horizon League. It was the same with the Indiana Pacers, who had a silent tribute planned before receiving a memorandum from the NBA.
CBS, which pre-empted coverage of the Indiana-Louisville basketball game, also delayed coverage of the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament in La Quinta, Calif., for about an hour.
The sports world did not mourn as it did in 2001, when NFL and major-college football games were postponed, but as it did in 1986 after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger.
There were moments of silence at NBA, NHL and college arenas in memory of the Challenger victims. That was also done at Auburn (Wash.) High School in memory of Francis “Dick” Scobee, pilot of the Challenger. Scobee attended the school.
The Associated Press contributed to this report