No escape from the gun madness in US

Sport can usually distract us from society's ills, but even that is becoming more difficult as Newtown tragedy showed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 6:08am

She was an innocent child sharing her radiant smile with a complete stranger. Holding her grandmother's hand she said her name was Jeanie and she was five years old. You could tell instinctively that picking up her adorable granddaughter after school was the highlight of grandma's life, there was so much joy in both of their faces. When I exited the elevator Jeanie smiled one more time before waving goodbye and it was all I could do to enter my flat before breaking down like a sobbing fool.

Man, I need to watch a football game to get my mind off this. Any human with half a heart was desperate for a distraction. News of the senseless carnage at a school in Connecticut had travelled like the speed of light and there was not a shred of the story that failed to break your heart. The faces of the young victims were in every child I saw, even as far away as here in Hong Kong.

In times like this sport is, in theory at least, a refuge from the madness. But we are so overexposed these days it seems like there are no boundaries to the madness. Three weeks ago Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs shot dead the mother of his child then drove to his team's practice facility and shot himself in front of his coach and general manager. The murder/suicide rocked the NFL but not a game, including the Chiefs, was cancelled that weekend. There were endless reminders however, including tributes from Chiefs players to their fallen and deeply disturbed comrade.

If you live in America you deal with the spectre of gun violence every single day. Come Sunday and game day, you don't want to be reminded of the madness. But because of Belcher's tragic act, there was no escaping it. Still, this past weekend in the NFL was one of the more surreal. What happened in Connecticut was both a national and international tragedy, the ramifications were unavoidable. However, there were still many folks getting ready for the highly anticipated matchup between the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, hoping all that heartbreak could be forgotten at least temporarily.

Newtown, Connecticut, is in a particularly contentious locale for sports fans. New York City is an hour and a half south while Boston is a couple of hours north. Friends, neighbours, even family members are often divided in their rooting loyalty. There is an uneasy truce in communities like Newton that features just as many Red Sox fans as there are followers of their sworn rivals, the Yankees.

In football, it's even more pronounced, particularly since the New York Giants and Patriots have faced off twice in the past five Super Bowls. You have to declare your allegiance and deal with the consequences and for six-year-old Jack Pinto there was no ambiguity. Pinto was a huge Giants fan and, revelling in their upset win over the Patriots in the last Super Bowl, he proudly wore the team's colours. According to his parents, he never took off his hero Victor Cruz's number 80 sweater. Last Friday his life ended in a hail of gunfire at the age of six. The next day Cruz was informed of Jack's devotion to him and placed a call to his distraught parents. He was told they planned to bury him in Cruz's jersey. "I don't even know how to put it into words," Cruz said. "There are no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolises you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on. I can't even explain it."

Throughout the NFL and the NBA there were endless tributes to the 20 children and six adults who lost their lives and while the Patriots-49ers game was one of the most entertaining matchups of the year, it was heavier than most in reminders of the tragedy that hit so close to home. Sports is no longer immune from the madness of society, nor should it be. Despite its inflated sense of worth, the world of sports is not a panacea. It can't cure society's ills, it can only distract you from them and even that is becoming more difficult.

I don't live in America but I do see the country in pretty much every baseball, football, basketball and hockey game that I watch. Being a detached voyeur and chronicler of the games the US plays is a privileged position. Still, some things will always boggle my mind about the place. The American government spent over US$700 billion on defence last year, almost as much as the rest of the world combined. But what good is protecting your country if you can't even protect yourself?