Basketball·Opinion

It feels like not much matters in the wake of another massacre at a U.S. school

How it is possible to go out and work, play sports or do anything when people in power refuse to protect the most vulnerable? It seems impossible, writes Shireen Ahmed.

NBA coach Steve Kerr's outrage sums up the feelings of many of us

A young fan stands for a moment of silence for the victims of a school shooting in Texas prior to a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers on Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif. (Associated Press)

This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

"When are we going to do something? I'm tired. I'm so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I'm so tired. Excuse me. I'm sorry. I'm tired of the moments of silence. Enough!" — Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

                                                                                         ♦ ♦ ♦

When I talked with my editor about this week's column, we hashed through my idea to write about my experience of being in Edmonton this week during the Battle of Alberta — the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs featuring the Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

I was visiting for my son's volleyball tournament just as the playoff series was getting heated. I spoke with many community members about the enormous excitement, the feeling of a joyful celebration in the air and the hope for a beloved team to hoist the Cup for the first time since 1990. Oilers flags were flying everywhere, and I got wrapped up in the frenzy when I wasn't cheering emphatically for my son's team. 

But all this fun and lightheartedness came crashing to a halt when I opened a message from my partner letting me know about the horrific shooting in Uvalde, Tex.

I spend a lot of my time online, but the last few days were intensely committed to the tournament, my son and his team. I had not seen the news of the murders of 19 children at Robb Elementary School. I didn't know that a teacher and another adult were also killed. I didn't know that the predominantly Latinx community had been attacked by an 18-year-old who first shot his grandmother with weapons he bought just days after his birthday, then went after the children.

As I read the news reports I let out an audible gasp. I couldn't believe what I was reading, stories explaining how parents had been waiting for hours to be reunited with their precious little ones. 

School children had been murdered by a shooter … again? I remember the Sandy Hook shootings all too well. I was angry and confused and heartbroken then. I was furious that the United States government would not adopt more strict gun control laws. I refused to acquit Canada from any systems of injustice, but I know that acquiring a semi-automatic weapon is not as easy here. You can't buy it in a Walmart in Canada. But the systems of racism, misogyny and other horrible injustices that are marinated in hate are alive and well north of the border. 

I did not bring the shooting up with my son during his games. I knew it would upset him. I felt a pang of guilt about this. I was trying to protect my child, something that parents at Robb Elementary School did not get a chance to do. 

My heartbreak for the families and community in Uvalde, Tex., 135 km outside of San Antonio, a place I have never been and may probably never go, was akin to my sadness and grief in 2012 after Sandy Hook. Or after 215 bodies of Indigenous children were discovered last May. Or when a Muslim family was run over by Nathaniel Veltman in London, Ont., last June. 

While my son's team was on the way to clinching a bronze in the championship, I stood in a large convention centre surrounded by healthy, young athletes and their families and read about how these little kids were slaughtered in a way that was so devastating, that their remains could not be identified. 

Their families were robbed of the future of them being at volleyball tournaments. That was ripped from their realities the moment that the shooter bought those guns.

An anger and sadness, I'm sure shared by so many others, was expressed by Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors, currently in the NBA playoffs facing the Dallas Mavericks. His words and frustration were palpable. 

People in Uvalde, Tex., are comforted by the archbishop of San Antonio. (Associated Press)

How it is possible to go out and work, play basketball or do anything when the most marginalized people of society are at risk? How can we focus on sports when people in power refuse to protect the most vulnerable? It seems impossible. How can I sit and write a column on the joy of hockey when as a mother, my heart is hurting for the mothers who don't get to hold their kids anymore?

The answer is I have no answer. But I will never stop supporting those who are trying to survive or heal. While I have learned to embrace happiness in the toughest moments, I can ask for accountability or support those who are demanding change. Even though, like Kerr, I am tired. 

I sat at the team dinner with a group of people who I see more than my family during the season. We had a lovely meal but there is no doubt that for the parents, the events in Uvalde have been so upsetting. 

A heaviness sat in the air while Game 4 of the Edmonton-Calgary series played on TV screens all over the restaurant. The NHL released a statement, as it usually does when a traumatic event unfolds. It was more of an offering of condolence. 

The scenes of jubilant Oilers fans were shown throughout the broadcast. The Rogers Centre in downtown Edmonton was full of elated orange and blue-clad people. It was a riveting game with Edmonton scoring three goals early in the first period, then Calgary tying it up before a strong 5-3 finish by the Oilers. 

A state trooper outside Robb Elementary School sign in Uvalde, Tex. (Associated Press)

I looked at the table of the young men my son plays with and thought about the little kids from Robb Elementary at their tables in the classroom, probably laughing and giggling just two days away from their summer vacation. 

I thought about my son and his teammates growing up to become strong leaders, and how they might be able to offer solutions that current power-holders don't seem to be able to or don't care to. 

All we can offer is hope for change and a commitment to advocating for the safety not the demise of our precious kids. My son watches basketball and will undoubtedly hear Kerr's words. I hope they are as meaningful to him as the medal that is on his bedside.

Sports or not, podium or not, none of it matters if we can't guarantee the basic safety of our most innocent. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shireen Ahmed

Senior Contributor

Shireen Ahmed is a multi-platform sports journalist, a TEDx speaker, mentor, and an award-winning sports activist who focuses on the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is an industry expert on Muslim women in sports, and her academic research and contributions have been widely published. She is co-creator and co-host of the “Burn It All Down” feminist sports podcast team. In addition to being a seasoned investigative reporter, her commentary is featured by media outlets in Canada, the USA, Europe and Australia. She holds an MA in Media Production from Toronto Metropolitan University where she now teaches Sports Journalism and Sports Media. You can find Shireen tweeting or drinking coffee, or tweeting about drinking coffee. She lives with her four children and her cat.

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