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Play Is Stopped

I won’t miss the games. Suddenly, I don’t care about the games. It will be a while before any of us truly cares about the games.

Baseball is closed, Pac-10 football is closed, maybe the NFL will soon be closed, and you know something? The only thing I miss about the games is that ritual that precedes them.

Lord, what I wouldn’t give right now to hear a national anthem.

A nice, long national anthem. Doesn’t matter if some of the lyrics are wrong, or the key is off, or the musician is one of those long-haired saxophone players who keep Laker fans standing for five jittery minutes.

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A national anthem, just one, echoing through a stadium of people feeling strong again, accompanying a game that will make us feel real again.

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You may not be sure why you’re reading this section today. I’m not exactly sure why I’m writing for it.

There’s no news here. Set against a horrible big picture few of us ever thought we would live to see, the names here suddenly mean virtually nothing. The numbers here don’t count.

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After spending two hours watching the news of the terrorist plane crashes in New York and Arlington, Va., early Tuesday morning, I unfolded this section, tried to read it, and couldn’t.

The names were odd, jumbled, lacked all perspective. A baseball team so dear to me yesterday was now a collection of strangers. A home run record was simply another statistic. A star running back was just some kid.

Reading about sports while your country is under attack is like reading a phone book. I scanned parts of two stories, folded the section back up, and returned to the TV.

During times like these, this is why the sports world is the first to turn the lights out.

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We don’t want anyone confusing ball and bat with life and death. We don’t want our endless trivialities taking up space better used for things that actually matter.

This is where you turn for escape. But during times of national tragedy, there can be no escape. We can offer little insight. We can be of no help.

You know this, and so do I.

Yet we are both here today anyway.

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Perhaps this is because we know that the sports world is also the first to turn those lights back on, a bright blaze under which a weary community gathers, a first stop in a long journey back to normalcy.

It was Babe Ruth who swung us out of World War I. It was Joe DiMaggio who helped us endure World War II.

And who can forget Super Bowl XXV, smack in the middle of the Gulf War,

73,000 people showing up in Tampa, Fla., to remind themselves and the world that America was still beautiful.

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Remember Whitney Houston that night? Now that was a national anthem.

Friday night football helps high school communities heal. On the night President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, a college basketball game between Indiana and North Carolina helped the nation endure.

That is perhaps why you are here today, wondering when such a healing will happen again. That is certainly why I am here, believing that it will.

Just not yet. It’s far too soon. The damage to our nation has been far too great. The lights here are still out.

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Pete Rozelle regretted his decision to hold NFL games on that 1963 weekend after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The NFL cannot be criticized if it chooses to step slowly this time.

Out of respect for the incredible suffering of our families and cities and psyches, nobody in the sports world should be criticized for whatever decisions are made to honor the loss.

But don’t give up hope. Keep checking with us. When the country is ready to resume living, you will feel it here first. It will sound like Whitney Houston. I strain to hear her now.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.


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