After the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, stadiums and arenas became secular cathedrals for fans to mourn their losses together.
The past two nights — particularly on Monday — they used those same venues to show their patriotism after the death of Osama Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11.
Philadelphia fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” during a Mets-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park late Sunday night, as word first spread of bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. forces.
It was the first of what would be many reactions from the sports world, both impromptu and planned.
Before the top of the fourth inning on Military Appreciation Night at Nationals Park in Washington, DC, on Monday, the public address announcer encouraged everyone at the baseball stadium to cheer for the active or retired members of the service who were in the stands last night, recipients of free tickets.
As Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared through the ballpark and the message “Thank You for Your Service and Sacrifice” dominated the high-definition scoreboard, a group of military personnel seated a few rows behind home plate waved their red Nationals baseball caps.
Thousands of fans rose to applaud. Members of the Nationals, spread around the diamond, preparing to play defense — and wearing what the team called “patriotic” uniforms, with stars-and-stripes curly “Ws” on the chests of their blue jerseys — provided their own standing ovation. The World Series champion San Francisco Giants stood in the visiting dugout and bullpen, clapping, too.
The Chicago Bulls borrowed Jim Cornelison from the Blackhawks to sing the anthem before Chicago’s playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks. He’s the singer who has become known nationally for his rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ public address announcer made note of the news before the national anthem, and the team showed a video honoring 9/11 victims during the first TV timeout. The Boston Red Sox had a moment of silence and hung a large American flag over the Green Monster.
In San Diego, one of the nation’s largest and most devoted military towns, Padres players asked to wear their camouflage jerseys, which are normally donned on Sundays and other military-related events. The club also offered two free PETCO Park tickets to all active, retired and veteran members of the armed forces. The Padres also had a pregame moment of silence. Just up the I-5 Freeway, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced they will make tickets free to active service members for the remainder of the month.
The changes made by franchises won’t stop there. Before Tuesday’s NBA playoff game between Miami and Boston in Miami, nobody will sing the national anthem. Instead, the team is encouraging fans to sing together.
Teams are also taking increased security measures. All NBA home playoff teams will check fans with metal detector wands while NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league had been “in contact with each of our remaining venues and they will be taking steps as they deem appropriate given the information we have.”
Major League Baseball said it would continue working with its teams and local law enforcement “to monitor what’s occurring on a day-to-day basis.”
Salutes to the military poured in throughout the sports world.
“I think that the word ‘heroes’ are used far too often when you talk about athletes and actors,” New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “The real heroes are out on the battlefields, protecting our wellbeing, allowing us the opportunity to play baseball or take our daughters or kids to the park. They’re the real heroes.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.