The Oklahoma State Cowboys played the Kansas Jayhawks Saturday afternoon. The offense put up almost 600 yards, the defense dominated, and J.W. Walsh had 5 touchdowns in a 58-10 Cowboy victory. The Pokes are 7-0 and closing in on a top 10 ranking. But you know what? None of those statistics matter. They mean nothing. They aren’t important. The only important statistic out of Stillwater that day are these two:
48 injured, 4 deceased.
I’m not going to go into detail about the tragedy that happened at the Homecoming parade that afternoon. You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen the pictures, maybe you watched the video they released, although I don’t suggest it if you haven’t.
The mood before and during the game was somber, which was to be expected. How do you go about tailgating and socializing with the sound of sirens and helicopters airlifting criticality injured fellow fans to the hospital as background noise? How to you cheer with the flag at half staff? How do you get excited to cheer on your team following a moment of silence and an announcement that the students need to call their parents to let them know they are okay? The answer is you don’t, really. You talk it about and then move the conversation in another direction, even though it’s still in the back of your mind. Then new information comes out, or one of the helicopters flies over, and you feel guilty about how you stopped thinking about it to begin with. You cheer at the big plays but that’s only a momentary break from reality before you’re pulled back in to the fold with more sobering news.
Unfortunately, OSU fans have some experience with these kinds of things recently. First with the plane crash in 2001 where 10 people associated with the basketball team, including 2 players, were lost. And then again in 2011 when the Cowgirls Basketball Coach and recruiting coordinator were killed, also in a plane crash.
But those were different. They took place out of state, not three blocks from Boone Pickens Stadium. They were also plane crashes, and while air travel is statistically very safe there’s an understood risk in it. Being nervous about getting on a plane is very common, but when have you ever been afraid to go watch a parade? This hit closer to home than the others. This one made everyone wonder if their friends and family were okay. This one was completely mind boggling as to how it could even happen. This one made people think “that could’ve been me….”
This one scared people.
For a lot of fans, sports is an escape. We work all week, or go to school, or haul our kids around (or all three) and then on fall Saturdays we watch our team. We get together with friends and family, we cheer, we cuss, maybe we eat too much, and for a lot of us it’s one of our favorite things. We feel like the team’s accomplishments are somehow our own. We get a sense of pride that is tied to them. We wear our colors and we thump our chests. We refer to the team as “we” and “us” like we’re actually out there with them.
And this time it is ‘we’, it is ‘us’. This affects us, the fans, permanently. It affects us as much or more as it affects the team and the school. This one event has had an impact on an incalculable number of people. Every one of the victims is someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, nephew or niece, coworker or friend. Lives were changed forever in that one moment. It’s up to us to be there for the families and friends of the victims, to be there for each other. We need to figure out what exactly happened and work on ways to make sure it never happens again. Not to us or to any other fan base, ever.