By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Jeff Whitten: 20 years ago, give or take a day or two
editor's notes

A lot of water has gone under a lot of bridges since Sept. 11, 2001, but for me that particular Tuesday was a deadline day.

I was sports editor of the Coastal Courier in Hinesville back then, and got to work stunned and in shock like everyone else.

Didn’t matter. We still had a paper to put out.

And me being me, then like now I felt compelled to write what I thought. One thing jumps out at me as I looked back at it: I was a little preachier then.

I share it now not because it’s particularly original or especially well written, but because as we near the 20th anniversary of an event which has changed our country in ways we’re still trying to come to grips with, it’s something that reminds me of what I felt at that moment before the years piled on. Written on Sept. 11, 2001, it ran Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001 under the headline “Life’s games not important today,” and was accompanied by a much more youthful looking mugshot of yours truly:

If I could fly this sports page at half mast and go home, I’d do it – because all of a sudden sports doesn’t seem so important.

Not in the wake of Tuesday’s collective and almost unbelievable tragedy, an apparent series of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and targets in Washington, DC, including the Pentagon.

Buildings are crumpled, a lot of people are dead – though as of Tuesday afternoon nobody really knows how many.

We just know they’re moms, dads, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands – people who were in the wrong place at the wrongest time possible.

If there’s justice then those responsible for the attacks will be hunted down and held accountable.

I don’t know if that will happen.

All I know is that for obvious reasons life’s games – at times so important to so many people for so many different reasons – are for the moment nothing more than games.

Of course, in time we’ll get over the shock, because we always do.

And along the way, games will again be a highly important part of people’s lives.

And they should be.

Sports are important for a lot of different reasons – not least of which is that they help us forget day-to-day troubles.

In the meantime, maybe a little self examination on a national scale might be in order.

Maybe now sports will be seen for what it is – and for what it isn’t. Because if you take the time to weigh winning or losing a game with what happened yesterday, there’s simply no comparison.

So maybe we’ll all come to understand that in the great scheme of things, it isn’t that important whether Michael Jordan decides to play basketball again or Jeff Gordon wins a NASCAR championship.

Perhaps we’ll also learn it doesn’t matter much which team you pull for or how much money you give to a booster club.

And just maybe we’ll learn that Vince Lombardi was wrong. Winning isn’t everything, and it isn’t the only thing.

Perhaps the me-first, win-at-all cost mentality too often found in American sports will be tempered by the realization that what we’re dealing with are games, nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe we’ll stop being so quick to second- guess coaches or complain about referees, and perhaps hack sportswriters like me will stop using words like ‘battle’ and ‘war’ when describing games that are supposed to be fun.

In short, maybe we’ll all grow up a little.

Yep, hindsight being 20/20 it’s clear I tended a good bit toward sanctimony then. Life didn’t knock that particular character flaw out of me until I got to be an editor and learned I wasn’t anywhere near as smart as I thought I was.

Still, it doesn’t seem we’ve grown up much, despite 20 years of war on terror – the brunt of which has been borne by about 1 percent of our population, if that. God bless them.

We are if anything a more divided, coarser society, bereft of understanding and patience, and too many people shout instead of talk and talk instead of listen, and nobody is ever wrong because the other guy is always to blame. Despite that, I remain an optimist, an attitude summed up maybe by the official motto of my home state of South Carolina. In Latin it’s dum spiro spero, and it means “while I breath, I hope.”

Sign up for our E-Newsletters