I know you’ve heard it many times before: “The show must go on.”
These are usually viewed as words of steadfast determination which originated in the entertainment world and make the point that no matter what happens, those who bought tickets must still be entertained.
Well, maybe there are times when the “show” shouldn’t go on — and the New York Marathon that was scheduled for last Sunday can be counted among them.
At first, organizers decided to hold the 26-mile foot race through New York City despite Hurricane Sandy ravaging the area just days before. With people in New York rendered homeless by the storm and life brought to a virtual standstill by lost electrical service and public transportation, marathon diehards harbored the idea that holding the race would somehow be a good thing.
The length of the course along city streets would have tied up untold numbers of police and other public safety personnel, but so what? The show must go on, ya know.
Finally, however, New York’s mayor announced that the 2012 marathon would be canceled.
While this situation should be applauded as one in which good sense was allowed to prevail, the mentality of those who wanted the race to go on despite hell or high water really bothers me.
The fact that a marathon was involved is partly the reason for their stance. By their very nature, marathon runners are accustomed to overcoming every obstacle in their way to complete the 26-mile distance. These people have learned to be determined and keep going no matter what the weather conditions are or their level of pain.
However, the same mentality has prevailed with other sporting events when there was a question of whether the show should go on or not.
A recent example of this occurred in September 2011 when the football team of Herington High School in Kansas learned during halftime of a game that their coach had just died.
Although team members were distraught and crying over the devastating news, an assistant coach told them that they should return to the field for the second half. He reminded these young fellows that their late coach would have wanted them to keep playing despite the broken hearts.
Oh, really? Did the assistant coach know this for sure, or were those just convenient words to put into the mouth of a man who had died? For all anyone knows, he could have asked that the second half be called off in his memory, since trying to win a football game is not the most important thing in the world.
Back in March 1990, Hank Gathers, a college basketball player for Loyola Marymount University, collapsed and died during a game. While university officials wanted the team to cancel the rest of the season and not participate in the upcoming NCAA Tournament after the death of its best player, they left the decision up to the coach and players.
Of course, they decided to play. Loyola Marymount eventually lost in the tournament, but the team was applauded for dedicating the rest of the season to its fallen star. This was viewed as a grand gesture, sure, but it also is true that Loyola Marymount rarely gets to play in the big dance. Deep down, did the fact that the team kept playing simply reflect a desire not to give up the chance to be in the national spotlight?
We also hear the same thing when close relatives of professional athletes die, be it a father or brother. The players always decide to take the field because it’s what their loved ones would have wanted. Again, we will never know what these folks really thought, God rest their souls.
My cynical side makes me wonder how much of having the show go on is about selfishness and ego rather than determination and perseverance, which are used to give a positive spin to teams deciding to play.
Saying that a player or coach who has died would have wanted them to do so certainly avoids the inconvenience of refunding money for tickets or losing revenue from concession sales and other activities accompanying sports contests. Indeed, many believe the full message behind the old saying of the show must go on is that given the shallowness of the entertainment industry, there is a realization that patrons’ money would need to be refunded otherwise.
In the case of the New York Marathon, there was much lamentation over the fact that canceling it would mean lost tourism dollars. But in no way should an athletic event, no matter how lucrative or prestigious, be assigned a higher priority than matters of life and death such as people recovering from devastating weather events.
Every day the headlines are full of reminders about the influence of big-time sports with its billion-dollar franchises and arenas.
Yet sports never will wield more power than Mother Nature.
Tom Joyce is a reporter with The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.