In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, first responders and volunteers from all across the country came to Ground Zero to aid in the rescue, recovery and relief efforts. Surrounded by the rubble of the World Trade Center, these volunteers worked tirelessly in the hopes of finding survivors and ultimately, to recover victims’ remains and clean up the site.
As the nation reckoned with the attacks and daily life around the country was mostly at a standstill, the rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero showcased strength and resilience. Shock, grief and security concerns prompted many public events to be cancelled, including major league sports games.
While leagues and teams grappled with the question of whether they should play their scheduled matches, local players and coaches visited Ground Zero to pay their respects and offer support to the rescue and recovery workers. The New York Yankees, New York Mets and New York Rangers were a few of the teams to visit the site.
“When we went down there the first time, you could still smell it. You could still feel it,” recalled New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine in an oral history recorded by the 9/11 Memorial Museum. “You could see the filth on the faces of the workers. When they saw us, their faces lit up. You could see their teeth through their black masks.”
For some players and coaches, a visit to the cleanup site foreshadowed an even stronger connection to the first responder and rescue and recovery community. New York Rangers captain Mark Messier honored FDNY Chief Ray Downey during a pregame ceremony in the team’s home opener in October 2001. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre visited Port Authority Police Officer Will Jimeno, who was rescued from the rubble on the night of 9/11, in the hospital and signed a baseball for him.
Stories of the connections like these between sports teams and the rescue and recovery community will be featured in the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s upcoming special exhibition, “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11.” The exhibition will explore how sports leagues, teams, athletes and their fans helped to unite and console the country as we grieved after 9/11 and gave us a reason to cheer again. It will open to the public on June 27.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff