There were 58 seconds of silence—one for every life lost in the tragic Las Vegas shooting that left hundreds more wounded. Afterward, fans filled the T-Mobile Arena with their trembling voices during an emotional national anthem.
Cathartic joy was not far behind, as Tomas Nosek scored 2:31 into the first home game in Golden Knights franchise history. By the time James Neal's second goal of the game made it 4-0 midway through the first period, the atmosphere became celebratory and the storyline was obvious—sports was once again helping wounded people mend in the wake of an atrocity.
"It's sad; you never want to have to do that, one second for each person," said Deryk Engelland, who met his wife in Las Vegas as a minor-league player here a decade ago and addressed the crowd after the anthem. "It's just sad, horrific events. But it's pretty special that they were able to do that, with all the names [of the victims] on the ice and the first responders out there.
"That's going to go down in the memory books as a great, great thing to be a part of and a special moment."
Engelland means well, as does everyone who does all they can to keep it together in the wake of a massacre. But something has cracked in the foundation of our society when five years after Sandy Hook we consider it "great" that a hockey team could make a few people smile with a regular-season victory less than two weeks after one of the worst moments in American history.
We should expect more from our leaders. We should demand more from our leaders.
After the largest mass shooting in American history, all the horror of the real world was displayed on the ice Tuesday night. First responders, many reluctantly accepting cheers from the crowd as they walked onto the ice, were there to receive thanks from the fans. But they were also a reminder of how everything can and will go bad in a moment's notice.
The problem is that something needs to actually come of their presence. What needs to follow is more than just a hockey game. We need to see this parade of heroes, take the next step and say to ourselves, "It would be great if these men and women didn't have to be heroes as often as they do. Let's do something about it."
But sadly, doing nothing has become one of the final stages in our national ritual of grief after mass shootings. Gun violence has become so commonplace that even gestures like the one in Vegas by pro sports teams have become normal. The blueprint is always the same—tragedy, a moment of silence, a symbolic gesture, some distracting sports, and then we move on without having had any discussion about gun violence or having using the event to foster any real change when we so desperately need it. The game grabs the headlines. The tragedy recedes.
It's dangerously unhealthy that nearly 60 people were murdered by a man with an automatic assault rifle and what we're talking about a little more than a week later is how it helped create momentum in a stupid, meaningless sports game. For instance:
"That was unbelievable for us," said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. "Tonight was about honoring and remembering the victims. So we came out real strong. To get those four goals was unbelievable."
We are a broken society. If that quote doesn't prove it, I don't know what does.
If I'm ever killed in a mass shooting, please let it be known that the best way to honor me is not by having the sports team closest geographically to the attack, playing on the earliest date after the attack, kick the shit out of some other team; it's by legislating as many guns as possible out of this country as quickly as possible so no other sports team has to have a ceremony like the one in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Imagine a world where sports didn't have to carry this burden because the burden didn't exist. It would have been great if that was the message in Engelland's speech Tuesday but we shouldn't ask more from our athletes than we do our elected leaders, who can do the work it takes to prevent massacres like the one in Las Vegas.
This isn't meant to shame or degrade anything said or done by the Knights. They are a new team debuting in a city that just had its darkest moment. This is meant to say that we should offer more to the people than a hashtag with the city's name and "strong" tacked on to the end of it. How are we not revolted by a hashtag (city) strong in the wake of mass murder that our politicians have no interest in correcting?
There's nothing wrong with using sports to bury your head in the sand now and then. There's no denying that they have the power to bring people together. But if we're using sports to distract us from the world burning to the ground, sports aren't doing us the favors we think they are.