I’ve come across a handful of thoughtful, powerful stories related to the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack that have ties to the military sports world. From a teenager describing how his life was turned upside down after his father, a former West Point football player, was wounded in Iraq, to the memories of the emotional 2001 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, these four reflections are worth your time:
Today’s youths in military families shoulder the horrors of 9/11 (Petula Dvorak, The Washington Post)
“There aren’t too many 17-year-olds who can claim to have a “mom sense.” But Jaelen, a football player at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County, can’t look at a sidewalk without instantly assessing the rocks and dips, the ramps and the rolls that would make it a smooth ride for his dad’s wheelchair.
His nurturing instincts were something foreign to him before, because for most of Jaelen’s life, his father was this hulking, real-life action figure who played football at West Point, formed battalions of men and went off to war.
And then in 2007, somber men in uniform came to the Gadson home in Kansas and sat down in the living room. And his mother cried. And his sister cried. And Jaelen’s life changed yet again.”
From Army-Navy to Iraq and Afghanistan (Ralph Russo, AP)
Instead of questioning their decisions to commit to military service, 9/11 affirmed those choices for men such as Gordon and Marine Capt. Bryce McDonald, who was a junior running back at Navy that day.
“What it did to a lot of people is hone their mindset,” McDonald said. “Or it gave somebody a purpose to go on in that general direction. A person gets more powerful when he has a purpose.
“I knew I wanted to be a Marine coming into this place. Yet that event, that horrific event, just put more purpose in that direction.”
Like most of the men who played in the 2001 Army-Navy game, Gordon and McDonald went on to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan — or both — during the 10 years that followed the most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Tillman’s call to action immediately apparent (Craig Morgan, FoxSportsArizona.com)
When Tillman finally sat down in the Cardinals old press conference room behind the media work room, the conflict was churning inside of him.
“I think they had just finished practice because his hair was wet and slicked back in that video that everyone has seen now because it’s been used so much,” Omohundro said. “He kept apologizing for being late even though he had just been practicing in 100-plus degree heat. And he kept apologizing for talking in circles.
“He said: ‘Part of me wants to go out and show those people who committed this act that this isn’t going to hold us down, but another part of me thinks there could still be people trapped in the rubble.”
“Then he started talking about how his great-grandfather had been at Pearl Harbor, and he hadn’t done a damn thing as far as putting his life on the line.”
Tillman’s introspection had an impact that day, but there were eight player interviews to edit and post, so Omohundro never gave it a second thought.
’01 Army-Navy game players carry lessons from gridiron to battlefield (Jon Wertheim, CNNSI.com)
“In previous years … you’d get off the bus and people would be booing you. They’d say ‘Sink Navy’ or some fans would be rude; they’d throw beer cans at you. But everybody that season had the utmost respect for the Navy team. I remember getting off the bus at Notre Dame stadium and — we didn’t do anything, we just got off the bus — and all of their fans just started clapping.”