September is the month that launches fall football frenzy in Tiffin and in so many other small, medium and large markets. Gone are the days of summer and the sweltering heat. Soon can we appreciate the crisp fall days where pee-wee football tots dance through pseudo-end zones in the center of Hedges-Boyer Park. Here is a town where local high school teams have gotten out to to fast starts, local colleges face unbelievable tough regional action, and the fanatical fascination with Division I Bowl contenders and the NFL makes life in Tiffin without football like a hotdog without ketchup or relish.
This particular September has provided a backdrop to debate whether sports are a means to help America escape or draw closer to the the symbolic meanings attached to war and service to our country. Ten years ago, the ballparks were as empty as the skies when seemingly every ball game at every level was cancelled and Americans searched for solace in the aftermath of 9/11. When the games finally resumed, they were extolled for the healing of a nation riveted by terrorists overtaking airliners and purposefully crashing into the New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and - after succumbing to a civilian uprising - a field in Pennsylvania.
The tributes on the NFL and Major League Baseball fields this September 11 were everything from spectacular to depressing depending upon views of how the National Anthem, fly-overs, and the color guard signifies patriotism or personal anguish. Unfortunately, the real meaning of the unfurled flag and Star Spangled Banner sometimes is forgotten for those fans that choose to view the time honored ritual as simply a means to the impending first pitch, kickoff, tipoff, or faceoff.
The stories of September 11 were retold on its 10th anniversary, but the raw memories of what happened a decade ago have somewhat faded away with the passage of time. Remember traveling anywhere on the roads for days and weeks after 9/11 only to see flag after flag flying high from homes, parks, businesses, and everything in between? It wasn't the same 10 years later as time takes a toll in life and in sports. Too quickly and routinely are scores and highlights forgotten until the next week rolls along. Sport is a commodity that is consumed at the rate of production. Sport is also an escape, just as much as it can be a means to hold on to the past.
Just think of the lessons sport can provide. The Syracuse Orangemen have so far squandered the opportunity to bring unquestionable positive notoriety to their program after failing to stand up and acknowledge that the Toledo Rockets were the true winners of their recent matchup. The Big East Conference office admitted its officials inadvertently allowed a missed extra point which gave Syracuse the eventual overtime victory. If Syracuse stood up and did the right thing by conceding the victory to the Rockets, it would gain so much attention and would win every conceivable award possible tied to sportsmanship. More important than lessons connected to core values and ethics, it seems, are the dollar bills tied to potential bowl invitations. Shame on Syracuse.
Speaking of bowl games, it is inevitable that plenty of attention this season will be given to the frenzied football fashion shows taking center stage. It is by no coincidence that fields and sidelines are transformed into free advertising for Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Gatorade. Perhaps the Oregon Ducks were the first to jazz up their unis, but suddenly dozens of teams are jumping on the bandwagon. Check out Boise State's new Power Ranger-style uniforms. The Maryland Terps/ new duds stirred more attention over Labor Day weekend than their winning game performance and Pro Combat wear is ready to debut on Navy and Army teams. Indeed, the pigskin fashion frenzy will have plenty of teams going bold and re-branding themselves with image makeovers that would make Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley, or Versace proud.
This past September, 2011 brought sport fans plenty of memories, albeit good, bad, and ugly (and the "ugly" winner is Maryland's uniforms). Besides the game scores and flashy college uniforms, September 2011 has marked the continuation of the NBA collective bargaining troubles, the NFL's continued quest for money, MLB's exciting month of pennant races (way to clinch, Detroit Tigers!), and the NHL's sorrow in losing players and coaches in a fatal crash near Moscow which claimed 43 lives. September 2011 has also brought sport fans the opportunity to remember the connection to 9/11 or to forget whatever the case may be.
Stay tuned in October for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is the dean of graduate studies at Tiffin University.