Seventeen teenagers, kids, were murdered in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. Seventeen kids who left that morning for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will never return home. Those who have gone home have had their lives fundamentally altered.
This outlet focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on college sports. The majority of my sports journalism experience is in college sports, and the same is true for most of the contributors. As I followed the horrific updates from Parkland on Wednesday, I had to step away. Writing and tweeting about sports felt frivolous, if not crass. But when I arrived home in the late afternoon, after playing with my 3-year-old son and having dinner, I made my self move on from the news.
I did what I typically do when my son’s asleep and turned the TV on to sports. Kentucky played Auburn in a great college basketball game, but a realization sat with me: The standout freshmen on the Kentucky lineup are one year older than the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High seniors.
Flipping over to the Winter Olympics, another realization struck me: Gold medal-winning snowboarder Chloe Kim is the same age as the Douglas senior class.
The massacre at Columbine High School occurred my sophomore year of high school. For the next six weeks until summer vacation began, it was the primary topic of conversation around campus. Teachers did their best to assuage our concerns, help us move on, but Columbine stayed with us — as it should have.
That next semester, national news covered Columbine’s varsity football team winning the Colorado State Championship. The Rebels achieved a milestone to which every high school athlete aspires, and inched their community ever closer to normalcy while paying respect to the peers and friends killed.
The Columbine football team stuck with me almost two decades later as a symbol of strength. They excelled in the aftermath of tragedy, and gave those around them cause for celebration. And, indeed, reason to celebrate is absolutely vital for those mired in tragedy.
Two other atrocities in recent American history over the next decade had similar, nationwide impact as Columbine. One was Sept. 11; the other was the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007. I viewed Virginia Tech through a lens similar to Columbine. Having graduated college just a year earlier, the students murdered could have been my peers. I thought to the campus shooting that occurred at my own university just a few years earlier.
Virginia Tech’s football opener this past season marked the 10-year anniversary of the ceremony at Lane Stadium to commemorate the victims. I vividly recall watching the ceremony live. It’s as heart-wrenching today as it was then, and is amplified in the wake of Parkland.
Some say or write nothing’s changed in the 11 years between Virginia Tech and Parkland, but that’s simply not true. The epidemic of violence has exacerbated. Kids who should be preparing for their high school graduations and move to college, like the victims at Columbine, or young adults ready to make their impression on the world like the students of Virginia Tech, are robbed of their futures. The survivors are left to bury friends far too early.
And it’s become so much worse.
Watching children your own age on television scramble around a campus in abject terror invites a sense of helplessness. When the images are of elementary school kids — children who barely no longer classify as toddlers — that helplessness can devolve into paralyzing horror.
Sports can help calm our worries, but how often have you as a fan walked around the concourse of an arena with thousands of others and wondered, Could it happen here? Am I standing on the next Columbine. Arizona. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois. Newtown. Las Vegas. Parkland. Or maybe it’s one of those places that doesn’t even register in the same tone anymore, because these atrocities have become so much more commonplace?
Kids should not see their places of learning and friendship devolve into war zones. We as a society should not be forced to feel so powerless.