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Why We Push Away And Lean On Sports During Tragedy

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The recent loss of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo put into perspective the time and care we put into loving our own teams. In a time of tragedy, we push away these trivial obsessions and soon look to them to help us through.

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

As a sports journalist I wake up every day, check twitter for overnight happenings I didn't see before leaving the office at 12 a.m. and read early morning news. It's a routine I never fail to complete. After twitter is Instagram, and then my emails.

On Wednesday morning I didn't get past twitter. I woke up around 10:30 a.m. to read tweets describing a tragic scene playing out in Ottawa at the Parliament buildings. I jumped out of my bed, turned on the TV and realized a play-by-play of a much different kind was being relayed to me.

The damage was already done, the shots were already fired, and there was a lot more to this day than what was going on in the sports world.

I watched - as many did - from my couch dreading the news I would hear just hours later. The soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, guarding The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier on Parliament Hill had not made it. The gunman was still inside Parliament and to everyone's knowledge was still alive. It's unfair. It's not right. Was this the beginning of a string of tragedies?

The gravity of the situation sucked Canadians in, and soon, Americans as well. The Prime Minister had been in the building and was safely escorted out. Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers acted quickly, the only way he knew how, to shoot down the gunman who moments earlier took the son away from a set of loving parents, father away from a six-year-old boy, and a dedicated owner away from his two dogs.

There is a lot more to life than sports.

It's times of heartbreak, grief and utter tragedy we use distractions to try and mend what has fallen apart at our feet. What we cannot explain or put into words is often best left in the hands of silence. To push back the emotions is a futile attempt at carrying on during times of distress.

During the multiple newscasts trying to relay the most accurate information was a long list of sports reporters trying to figure out if a hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs would take place. It was a moot point. Nobody was interested in a hockey game that day, nobody wanted to play it and nobody cared. I, as a journalist, sat knowing reporting injuries and stringing words together about athletes for a living was trivial. My place in the news world is not at all imperative to society. It's a shallow feeling to acknowledge you're not doing anything important.

The focus remained on Cpl. Cirillo who himself went unknown until his identity was released to the public. The gunman was confirmed dead, and Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers the rightful hero. As the details began to spill out, we too began to go about our lives. Stirred at the tragedy and united as a country, we began to carry on. Personal essays, tweets of sympathy and unwavering support for the families of those affected and first responders were posted everywhere. It was comforting to know we all felt the same. We were all weighed down by the senseless attack.

When there is nothing left to report and we sit with our own thoughts, the need for distraction and unity is inescapable.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. - Maya Angelou

On Wednesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins displayed their heartfelt support by singing the Canadian anthem before their game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The gesture was one full of love and empathy. As Jeff Jimerson sang, many patrons sang along with the words posted on the jumbotron. The world of sport is a funny one. When the games we love mean so little, they also mean so much. The game of hockey was the furthest thing from our thoughts and five hours later it meant the world. A distraction.

To see American teams compelled at their own choosing to stand beside Canadians in a difficult time meant more than a moment of silence. It meant more than a statement from the league. It was the ultimate display of compassion when the city of Ottawa and Canadians needed it most.

On Saturday, the Senators hosted their first home game since the tragic shooting and planned a ceremony to honour Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (struck by a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu), and Cpl. Cirillo. The Senators and New Jersey Devils stood shoulder to shoulder around centre ice. A display of solidarity we often do not see.

The unique part of this ceremony was the organization that allowed all three rivals - Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa - to sing the Canadian anthem simultaneously. The power of a game, the one we couldn't care less about just days earlier, brought 60,000 hockey fans together to pay tribute and show unwavering unity. Where else could a tribute be so effective than among the people who are grasping at a distraction to pull them through?

As time goes on, Cpl. Cirillo is laid to rest, and the country moves forward, I will never forget how quickly I needed a distraction. I will never forget the swell of my throat on Wednesday when I watched the Penguins and others support Canada. I need sports, I need the distraction. I love doing what I do, and it's why when tragedy confronts us, we feel so conflicted.