FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1963, SPORTS
Copyright 1963/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
A Nation In Shock: A Dreadful Day in Dallas
A sniper crouches behind a parapet. His enemy is himself; so he is going to kill a friend. He is going to clear the shadows out of his own deranged mind by sending a bullet into a clear one.
A nation is shocked, then shamed. The White House is black. A young widow on a television screen is a reproach to all of us. The fruit of hate is death. People who prey on fears have done their work well. Sanity is sentenced to death. Stability is sent home in a coffin. A man who stands on principle, lies on a catafalque. Lunacy gets legions; logic loses its life.
A promising young statesman who, with his nation, survives a confrontation at the missile-head with the most dangerous power the world has ever known, cannot survive a single shot out of a grooved barrel and a twisted mind. His ultimate enemy is not a foreign despot but a homegrown idiot. The political persuasions of the assassin are a camouflage. His allegiance is to hatred. On a dreadful day in Dallas, he pays his tribute to it, salutes his master in the way he knows will please it best.
The world of sport is as heartsick as the world, period. The nation does not want to play, it wants to cry. Regardless of political belief, the loss is total because it is the loss of a people’s esteem. Violence is the coin of barbarism, not Americanism.
This is being written to you on Friday some hours after our president has been flown home for the last time, the tan of the Texas sun still on his cheeks, a widow who must wonder if she won’t soon awake from this terrible dream, alongside.
All of us will always remember what we were doing when the numbing news came. I was, as I usually am, writing a column. It was about fun and games, cowboys and cow ponies, rodeos and riatas. This weekend is no time for fun and games. It is time for a nation to take stock, not wave pom-poms, yell “push ‘em back!” or care very much who goes to the Rose Bowl.
It is a time to care what goes into our young’s minds, not what goes into their shoulder pads and cleats. The bullet that put an exclamation point in history and another wreath on a family that has already sacrificed another son in the war for men’s minds, put a moratorium on the frivolities of the playing fields.
Sport lost a friend in President Kennedy. Fitness was a big a passion with him as freedom. If the free weren’t fit, he held, they wouldn’t long be free. The jokes were about touch football, but games were an obsession with him, not a game. He chided staffers who were fat and unfit as he chided a nation that was morally that way.
He welcomed athletes to the White House, not for their notoriety but for their example. Ambush is not a sport in this country. There are no P.E. classes in firing squads. You don’t get letters for shooting in the back.
A period of mourning is altogether fitting, not because our President is martyred because every president is martyred — we exact the ransom of health, family, privacy and, sometimes, sanity, from all of them and especially from the best of them — because there is too little time. Prosperity can’t unite us, maybe tragedy can.
This country is a volunteer country. Sometimes, that’s just its trouble. But I am proud that sport can find in itself the morality to join in the mourning, put away the footballs and the ice skates, suspend the bucks and stand silent and bareheaded along with the rest of the country. It didn’t just happen to our president, it happened to all of us.
Lincoln, as usual, said it far better than the rest of us. “It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work . . . that from this honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which he gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that this dead shall not have died in vain.”
I hope that those of you who know me as a man, who would rather find a wisecrack than wisdom, will not be offended by the emotion. It’s just that I am sorry for the President, for Mrs. Kennedy, for their fatherless children. And I am sorry for all of us. I heard a young man on the television say “Today, I am ashamed to be an American.” That is not right. Because Jack Kennedy was not ashamed to be an American. The man who fired the shot was. And should be.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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