Greg Cote

Sports mourns. We all mourn, then wait for the next tragedy while leaders do nothing

The lastest school mass-shooting leaves 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the north Broward city of Parkland, Florida.
The lastest school mass-shooting leaves 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the north Broward city of Parkland, Florida. Alexa Ard-McClatchy

This has nothing to do with sports, except that our athletes and coaches have beating hearts, and feel sorrow and anger just like the rest of us.

It will have nothing to do with sports when the next deranged shooter with a semi-automatic weapon targets an arena or stadium full of fans.

Notice I said when, not if, because it is hard to be encouraged that the madness will not come to that.

This is not even about sports because one of the 17 victims of Wednesday’s Valentine’s Day massacre at a Broward County high school happened to be an assistant football coach, Aaron Feis, who died a hero trying to shield students from the spray of bullets.

“That is not firecrackers!” Feis is reported to have said before running toward the mayhem.

Seventeen innocents were killed and more than a dozen others wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

Another mass shooting in the United States of America — another one — and behind our tears and outrage is overriding helplessness, again, because we see our government unwilling to defy the gun lobby, unwilling to outlaw the sale of military-style weapons such as the one used Wednesday by the suspected Parkland coward, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, an expelled Douglas student now in custody.

Across the country, sports figures reacted with the same outrage: Again!?

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr does not mince words: “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools; it doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough apparently to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running the country, to actually do anything. That’s demoralizing.”

More and more sports figures are speaking out on social issues, led by the fight against racial inequality, and it is a wonderful thing to see and hear that platform being used for good.

Now if only enough lawmakers in Washington felt as strongly as Kerr does.

President Donald Trump spoke to the nation about the tragedy from the White House Thursday and mentioned tackling “the difficult issue of mental health” and prioritizing school safety. He did not once mention guns.

Addressing parents of the victims, he said, “We are here for you, whatever we can do, we are here for you.”

Here’s one thing you might do, Mr. President. You might take the lead in enacting extremely more stringent gun laws in America and wiping out the scourge of semi-automatic weapons.

This is the ninth-worst mass shooting in U.S. history based on number of deaths. Imagine. Seventeen dead barely makes the top 10.

This is an epidemic. America is broken and it won’t be fixed until We The People have had enough and demand change. Grass-roots movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are powerful. They have impact. There must be a national movement against the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic weapons that have no place in the hands of anyone but military and police.

Though well meant, our thoughts, prayers, condolences, stay-strong hashtags and flags at half-mast are not working.

Sandy Hook Elementary. The campus of Virginia Tech. An Orlando nightclub. A church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Now, us. Our backyard.

The displays of flowers, candles, teddy bears and tear-stained messages left by mourners outside tragedy sites — how many more of those gut-wrenching tableaus must we see before something is done?

The N.R.A. crowd would remind me this is not just about guns, and that is absolutely correct.

It starts with identifying and treating mental illness. It starts with vigilantly detecting and reacting to warning signs, such as Nikolas Cruz’s threatening social media posts about violence and killing. It starts with stringently enforced guidelines to keep firearms from dangerous hands. It starts with heightened security at schools and events with large crowds. It starts with all of that.

But it almost always ends with a semi-automatic weapon that can spit death rapid-fire from distances of up to 600 yards.

This is not about infringing on Second Amendment rights. It is about sanity. An outdoorsman has every right to his hunting rifle. A homeowner has every right to his handgun for protection. This is about killing machines.

This should not be a partisan issue. It should not be Democrat versus Republican. It should be a national consensus, a demand for change borne of outrage.

“This happens nowhere but in the United States of America,” Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “This is an epidemic of mass slaughter, and it is a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible.”

In the absence of action all we can do is vent, and be reminded again that the sports world weeps and gets angry just like the rest of us.

At times like this, Parkland is everywhere.

And so in South Korea, American figure skater Alexa Scimeca-Knierim skates through tears after learning of the tragedy just before taking the ice. “We may be living in a different world over here with the Olympic hype,” she says afterward, “but we’re hurting for them.”

Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel asks, “When will there be proactive change from our government leaders?”

Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, a Douglas alum: “This is out of control and our country is in desperate need for change.”

The Florida Panthers put out video messages from four players. “Hopefully we can fix this,” says Vincent Trocheck.

The Florida Gators hold a moment of silence before a basketball game.

Heat star Dwyane Wade expressed condolences before Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia. Coach Erik Spoelstra called it “horrifying” and “mind-boggling” and said, “It makes this game feel totally insignificant.”

After the outrage and condolences and tears, after 17 funerals are held, we wait. It is all we can do. We do it every time.

We wait for our government to finally eradicate semi-automatic weapons and help stop these mass-shooting tragedies, but nothing is ever done.

So we wait, with dread, for the next one.

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