By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This is hard.
It’s April, a time of rebirth. Flowers bloom. The cold, hard winter turns warm.
Baseball starts, which makes the oldest among us, of which I proudly proclaim myself, young at heart again.
In a college town like this, football returns with the spring game, as festive an event as you can imagine.
Former players return to town and merge in the mind’s eye with the players who represent the future, meaning the upcoming fall. Nothing like an April tailgate, a brew and a brat or a pepperoni roll and the sounds of “Country Roads” ringing out once again.
Football in this town is a religion, and to come and see old friends and talk about memories of football games past and dreams of future games, all of it eager to catch a look and see if the departure of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin is really the end of the world.
Only this year, can you really think of the end of the world in terms of football with all that surrounds us this week?
What is a fumble or an interception when you think of it terms of a pressure cooker bomb on the finish line of the Boston Marathon, taking out the legs and lives of people who, just like you, were celebrating another right of spring less than a week earlier.
Then a couple of days later, down there in the heart of Big 12 country that has suddenly become our own playground, a fertilizer plant turns into a virtual nuclear weapon. West, Texas, is nearly destroyed under a mushroom cloud.
Fertilizer, which is supposed to make our flowers grow, which feeds the food that feeds us, becomes a weapon that ends lives in a town that sports writers and travelers have used as a popular rest stop on drives near Baylor or Texas.
What is this world coming to?
Why? That always is the question, and it usually is one with no answer … no real answer.
It’s a question I’ve been asking since the day I was born, for the very next day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Mine has been a wonderful life with joy coming from family and friends and sports and from a profession that has always given far more than I have taken from it.
But reality always has intruded, for that is the world in which we live. World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq … on and on.
Always it was horrible, our finest men and women fighting for freedom, sometimes coming back maimed, sometimes coming back dead … but it wasn’t happening at the World Trade Center in New York or on Boylston Street in Boston.
As I sit here writing this, thousands of law-enforcement agents are chasing a single villain, age 19, who set the bombs in Boston, running for his life when he failed to give others a chance to run for their own. His brother lies dead somewhere, died they say with a bomb attached to him so he could perform one final evil act.
You listen to friends and relatives of these two brothers and they seem unbelieving that they
could have performed such acts, could have housed such evil feelings within what they thought were relatively normal people.
One friend described him as a “fun kid,” “cheerful,” “never really mad at the world.” He noted that he was captain of the wrestling team, someone he looked up to, someone he could trust his life to. He even volunteered to help with Down syndrome.
All our lives we have believed that this couldn’t happen with an athlete, that the leadership from a coach, the spirit that grew out of the camaraderie of a team, the ethics and morals of playing by the rules would lead you into righteousness.
Oh, athletes make mistakes … big mistakes. We have read of horrible crimes, of rape, of murder from athletes we would never dream could act such a way, but these were crimes of passion, crimes of greed, but seldom crimes of terror and hatred.
I will try today, as you will, to enjoy this spring game, but I know I will not look at it as I have in the past, just as I no longer look at any sporting events as I looked at in the past, not after having been patted down and having my bag checked because in a country where you once trusted everyone you no longer can trust anyone.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.