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What's the Impact on Sports When Terrorists Strike a Sporting Event?

Security plans will evolve, and the games will eventually resume. But how will the threat of the next terrorist strike affect sports fans?


Monday's terror attack on the Boston Marathon makes real the fears that many sports fans have held since the September 11th attacks. We've long known that sporting events could be the target of someone looking to inflict a large amount of damage. But the idea of a terrorist attack at a sporting event didn't originate with 9/11; anybody remember "Black Sunday", a 1977 movie about a terrorist attack at a Super Bowl?

On April 15th, 2013, those fears and fiction became reality. Two bombs were detonated at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring over 100 people. Spectators and athletes alike; the bombs didn't draw distinctions.

We've grown accustomed to increased security at sporting events in recent years. Fans are no longer allowed to bring in bags, and in cold weather, coats and blankets are always subject to a pat down. In the weeks ahead, law enforcement will learn more about what happened in Boston and security plans will evolve.

We've seen other terror attacks against our country over the last 20 years. Some by foreigners with the intent to do our country harm. Others by Americans with the same intent. Many others by deranged people just looking to go out in a blaze of infamy. In the halls of government, we have spirited debates today on how best to try to protect society from those who intend to do harm.

The sad fact is that if anybody really wishes to inflict casualties on society, they will do it. The best we can do is make it more difficult to do, and hope they will make a mistake so that the perpetrators can be identified and stopped before they have a chance to carry through on their plans for evil.

Roadside bombs have killed numerous American troops in Iraq and Afganistan. Now they've killed in the streets of Boston. American society will respond in the best way we can. People will donate blood in hopes of saving the injured, and money to aid relief efforts. We'll offer badly needed prayers for everybody affected by the horrors of this attack.

But how does the sports world move forward in a post-April 15th world? In the hours after the attack, the NHL's Boston Bruins cancelled a game on Monday night, and a Tuesday NBA game with Boston Celtics has also been cancelled. Those are appropriate short term measures; police resources are needed elsewhere, and the population is in shock.

More importantly, authorities aren't sure what else the perpetrators of this attack might have planned; they've advised people to stay home and away from crowds.

That's fine for today and tomorrow, and maybe for a while beyond. But eventually, society has to restart. Americans can't sit at home forever. People have jobs to return to, and life must go on.

But life won't be the same. And sports won't be the same. We've always wondered what would happen if a sporting event were ever targeted by terrorists. Now it's happened. Now the question is, when will it happen again.

How will sports fans respond? Will they choose to stay home and watch games on television in this day and age of HD broadcasts of just about every event? Now that security is going to be even tighter, will people want to avoid the hassle of joining the crowds?

This fall, new facilities at Memorial Stadium and Pinnacle Bank Arena are opening in the hope that more, not fewer, Husker fans will be watching Nebraska compete. Ticket sales have been brisk so far for these new venues, and I don't see any major impact now. But as we move forward, will attendance be affected by events like this?

While watching a game on television is better than missing the game entirely, or only listening to it on the radio, it's no match for the experience of attending in person. The emotion of the crowd and the atmosphere of the event is hard to duplicate in your living room. Life must go on, and in the days ahead, sporting events will return to Boston.

They have to. If terrorists can succeed in scaring us away from the things we love, they have won. Today, we mourn the victims and pray for them and their families. But in the weeks ahead, sports fans will have to come to grips with the reality of attending events in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon terror attack.