The Rarity of Sports As Terror Targets
You can't stop crazy.
It's an important lesson to remember in the wake of two explosive devices that went off at the Boston Marathon yesterday, killing three people and injuring over a hundred.
That's an awful act perpetrated by an individual or individuals, either foreign or domestic, who are terribly misguided and weak.
But it's also an incredibly aberrant and rare act.
In the long history of American sports, there have been two sports terror attacks -- the 1996 Olympic Park bombing that killed two people and wounded over 100, and yesterday's bombing at the Boston Marathon. Those two attacks are separated by nearly 17 years, flank the 9/11 terrorist attack, and have killed five people combined. (There have been sports terror attacks elsewhere -- most notably Munich in 1972 -- but these are rare also. Time Magazine compiled the ten worst sports terror attacks a few years ago.)
In fact, in the entire world, less than 100 people total have ever been killed by terror attacks at sporting events.
When you consider the size of the crowds and the difficulty of policing audiences of this size, that's simply unbelievable.
Lots of people are understandly shaken by yesterday's event, but over the past hundred years worldwide you've been infinitely more likely to fall to death inside a stadium than you have been to be the victim of terrorism. Alcohol poisoning has killed infinitely more fans. Scores more people have died driving to and from sporting events. Indeed, around 110 people a day die in car accidents in this country, the equivalent of the entire VIetnam War death toll every two years. Amazingly, despite the frequent and massive gatherings of sports fans around the world, attending a sporting event is one of the safest things a large group of people can do in America.
That's because 99.9999% of us living in America love it here.
We've never had a suicide bomber, we've had relatively few homegrown terrorists, most of our cranks aren't willing to die for their cranky pursuits. I'm willing to bet, though I have no evidence for it, that several foreign terrorists have arrived on our shores intent on pulling off a mass atrocity and then decided, "Damn, it's nice here." Instead of killing us they kick back and watch "Game of Thrones," on HBO on their massive flat screen television. Even would-be terrorists like HBO in HD.
The American political process is disjointed, slow, prone to overreaction, and often incredibly frustrating, but one thing it does provide is an opportunity to have your voice heard. Maybe this is why terror acts are so rare here. Because there's virtually no obstacle that stops any one of us from staging our own terror attack at an American sporting event. Yet the act itself is almost unheard of. I've thought about this for years, since even before 9/11, how the very openness of American society renders us completely vulnerable to acts of mass atrocity. What's to stop a group of terrorists from opening fire outside an NFL stadium, dozens of suicide bombers from simultaneously detonating themselves at sporting events across the country?
Yet it never happens.
Oh, sure, we're doing our best to infiltrate terror groups -- if this was a Middle Eastern terror group we can actually take some solace that in 12 years we've so disabled the terror networks that those who hate us have gone from the capability of flying planes into buildings to exploding small devices at an open-air sporting event -- but go back to the first line of this piece, you can't stop crazy. You can't stop a few solitary individuals from deciding to kill.
You just can't.
Isn't that an amazing story standing alone? Not that a few are willing to perpetrate acts like these, but that the vast, vast, vast majority of us would never do it. When you consider how many diverse and varied opinions the American sports fan carries and how many different backgrounds we all have, how truly amazing is our shared revulsion to acts such as these? It isn't just that we wouldn't do it, it's that most of us can't think of anything worse to do.
Hell, could it be that even terrorists are sports fans? Otherwise, why haven't sporting events been greater targets? Could it be that even terrorists realize how angry we'd become if they targeted our favorite sporting teams? I have no idea, but it's worth considering. Maybe it's even simpler than that, maybe even terrorists view the idea of attacking sporting events with revulsion. They're fans too. (Stop with the way to give terrorists ideas Tweets. You think a terrorist just realized that a billion people go to sporting events every year?)
The media, while having many great strengths, tends to overwhelm an incident like yesterday, giving it a power the act itself doesn't really deserve. What really happened yesterday? Someone left two homemade bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and when they detonated many were injured, three were killed.
That's really the act of a powerless and impotent soul, someone striking out, weakly, at a world that angers them.
Fear sells, and all too often I think the media propagates that fear. But should we really be fearful?
You want the reality?
Never in the history of America have you or I been safer.
Not in the 1790's, not in the 1850's, not in the 1950's, not in the 1990's every day, and every week, and every month you and I get safer still from violence.
That's the complete and total truth.
And it's mostly true for the rest of the world too.
Every day the world is becoming a safer place.
This doesn't mean that at some point a mass atrocity at a sporting event won't happen -- it most assuredly will -- just that the odds of it happening to you or me are infinitesimally tiny. We're much more likely to die driving to the stadium than once we arrive there.
So I'm not amazed that someone is willing to put a homemade bomb inside a backpack and explode it at an American sporting event, I'm amazed at how infrequent the act is.
Despite no real way to stop it from happening, it almost never happens here or elsewhere in the world.
That's a story worth telling too.