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In Dallas, sports help start healing process

DALLAS — I am old, so I remember the last time this happened. And by this, I mean an entire nation stopping in its tracks to grieve over what’s happening in downtown Dallas where a sniper’s bullets reign down from above and destroy lives and change how we think about our world.

I was eight. I was confused more than I was scared. I was a new kid at Northrich Elementary in Richardson, and after five months here I was ready to move back to New Jersey where we had a bigger, greener yard and nicer teachers and there was the promise of snow.

We got to watch TV that afternoon, which didn’t usually happen if Mrs. Bynum wasn’t teaching us the basics of Spanish. But we knew this was bad. A teacher or perhaps the principal told us that this would probably never again happen in our lifetimes. As bad as things have gotten at times, in terms of another President being mortally wounded, that prediction remains correct.

We got out of school early and when I got home, I found out we were going to Grandma’s house in Skiatook, Okla. Those were the kinds of things that mattered to a third-grader when President Kennedy was assassinated on the streets of Dallas.

So 53 years later — including 31 at the News — I was less curious about my place in this city but equally useless, not that I could have done much beyond type had I been here. On Thursday morning, lying by the pool at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, I read the first 40 pages of Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1964, which details the Kennedy assassination and how the mechanics of government managed to lurch forward, awkwardly but steadily, at Parkland Hospital and Love Field.

A few hours later, there was nothing more on my mind than what kind of ice cream to buy in the lobby to take to my room to watch an episode of The Americans on my iPad. Then I returned to my hotel room, only to see our world focused on an assassin in downtown Dallas one more time.

Suddenly, getting up early to watch Roger Federer at Wimbledon seemed a lot less meaningful.

This wasn’t the first time I felt that my world of writing and talking about sports was not particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Not by a long shot. But I also recognize what sports can do for people in times of crises. It’s no exaggeration at all to suggest that the rise of the Cowboys in the ’60s helped erase much of the stigma that was unfairly attached to Dallas following the actions of one sick, lone gunman.

(Yes, one. Catch up on your reading and research if you still think Oswald had help).

I also remember talking to firemen in lower Manhattan during the 2001 World Series. They didn’t just suggest that the Yankees were the city’s real heroes despite our suggestions that New York’s Bravest and New York’s Finest deserved that designation after 9-11. They insisted upon it. And even if I still disagreed, it drove home the point of what the success of a baseball team can do to heal wounds.

Now we get athletes’ instant reactions to tragedy on Twitter. Everyone should be proud to listen to the words of Police Chief David Brown and Mayor Mike Rawlings in the last 48 hours. But on a different level Rangers manager Jeff Banister’s thoughts told us all that it’s OK to be confused and scared right now.

And while I didn’t think watching Wimbledon made a lot of sense Friday morning, I did feel compelled to find the Triple S Food Mart on Foster St. in Baton Rouge on my drive home. It’s not the kind of place you stumble upon on the way to an LSU game at Tiger Stadium. But it is where Alton Sterling was killed by police earlier this week, one of two killings that inspired Thursday’s march down Main St., and the crowd of residents and media in front of the rundown convenience store told me this branch of the story would not soon be forgotten, either.

I didn’t stay long because I felt a pressing need to get home. At dusk Friday night, I figured out that it is 1.8 miles from my home to police barricades and crime tape in downtown Dallas. The number of square blocks roped off, filled mostly with the silent sirens of police cars and the satellite trucks of the national media, is staggering.

The irony as I drove past is that on Houston St., there wasn’t a single individual looking skyward towards the sixth floor of the Book Depository building. The few folks on that street were craning their necks to look the other way towards El Centro and the site of Thursday’s terrifying carnage.

That doesn’t mean that 11-22-63 will ever be forgotten. It’s just that 7-7-16 is going to stay with us and sicken us for a long time.