Violence at Sporting Events like Boston Marathon Stigmatizes Athletes
Violence at Sporting Events Stigmatizes Athletes

By Dave Ferraro

All across the globe, sport unites and inspires and attracts crowds. Thus, unfortunately, it will always be a potential target for evil people looking to inflict pain, division, and turmoil. It started in 1972 during the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany and since 9 other sporting events have been targeted.

In 1976 I was watching the Montreal Summer Olympics on television, thinking I’d love to compete in an Olympic Games. I had been an athlete my entire life, including track. In Jr. High I did the 100, 220 and pole vault. In High School I did the 440 and long jump. I was fast, but not world class fast. I had endurance but not long distance endurance. The 800 meters could be my race. Just get in shape enough to run at 80% speed for 700 yards and then accelerate to the tape. I’d spend a year getting in shape, then a couple years entering AAU track meets so I could get a try out. I’d win the trials, go to Moscow in ‘ 80 and run to Olympic glory on international television. I’d be 26 years old. Perfect.

Well, I never got in shape. I never entered races at track meets. As life unfolded it got by me. Could I have actually made the Olympic Team? I doubt it, but I was disappointed in myself for not trying, until in 1980, our then president almost unilaterally pulled the entire rug out from under our Olympic hopefuls by boycotting the Moscow Games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I imagined having gone through all of that and then getting it ripped from my grasp. I hadn’t gone through all that, but the world class American athletes who had, got their work, opportunity and dream – ripped from their grasps – due to a useless political “statement”. They were at the pinnacle of their athletic life. Many of them would never get another chance.

This all came back to me the other day as I watched the news on television. I was watching replays of 2 explosions near the finish line of the Boston marathon.

Of course my first thoughts were of horror and sorrow for the senseless carnage. Shattered limbs and lives that will never be the same. Questions like why Boston, and not Chicago or New York. Why a sporting event such as a marathon, and not a World Series final or a Basketball arena? What could be the message? So many questions stranded in senselessness. Beyond that though, I saw world class athletes and rank amateurs looking forward to complete the running of their 26.2 mile dream.

They trained endlessly. Made lots of sacrifices to be in top shape. They had saved their money to book flights and accommodations to be part of it. They raced but….many did not even get to finish line because some deranged monster lit up the street ahead of them with explosives.

Why? We don’t know. Obviously not to create awareness for a cause, since no-one came forward yet to claim the atrocity. Terrorism is by definition violence or threats used to accomplish a goal – like free prisoners or make some vague, often barely thought out political statement. British scholar and terrorism expert Paul Wilkinson once remarked that “Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.” This one definitely got past us, while it’s hard to imagine that it was the action of one deranged individual.

Since 9-11 we have learned as a nation that a measure of protection is needed to be somewhat safe against acts of terror. And we have learned to pay a price for that.

But this senseless act was just evil violence against the randomly unsuspecting. This was an act of violence against all of us, just because they had the opportunity and means.

Criminally insane and deranged actions are part of our world as it unfortunately has always been, whether defined as terrorism or unprovoked criminal violence. Thinking in this case it was probably the latter. I’m with the FBI agent in charge in Boston who said: “Someone knows who did this. The person who did this is someone’s friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative.” He omitted to include parent or child in this line up.

In other words, the person who did this is somehow part of a social circle, however small. Social control theory proposes that people’s relationships, commitments, values, norms, and beliefs encourage them not to break the law or to commit deviant acts. Consequently lack of social control may create the opposite.
After the ongoing atrocities in school-, church-, theater- and freeway shootings and bombings, it just may be time to start paying closer attention to the social circles that surround these sick individuals, so over time we may be able to spot irrational or deranged behavior, prior to individuals committing these unforgivable acts of violence.