April 16th, 2013

Billy Reed: We won't give in to terrorism


Billy Reed

Executive Editor

Billy Reed: We won't give in to terrorism
The scene at Monday's Boston Marathon / photo from wcvr.com

The tragedy at the Boston Marathon comes just as we in Louisville are preparing for Thunder Over Louisville, the opening of our two-week civic celebration leading up to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4. A crowd estimated at upwards of 300,000 will line the banks of the Ohio River on Saturday night, just as untold thousands lined the 26-mile route of the Boston Marathon.

So far we don’t know what demented soul made the two bombs that exploded at the finish line, killing three and injuring 150 or more. The evil could have come from anywhere, home or abroad. It could be somebody with a political agenda, or it could be just a nut case trying to get his or her moment of fame.

It was just the latest reminder that we live in an unsafe world in which not even schools, movie theaters and classrooms are safe.  And it certainly gives us reason to pray and reflect yet again, as we decide what to do about the Derby Festival events.

Like those in Boston, we are innocents who attend our events to celebrate the beauty of God’s world and the best of the human spirit. We embrace all the festival events – steamboat race, parade, parties, dinners and all the rest – with unbridled joy. These are family events that bring together the diverse elements of our community, if only for a couple of weeks. 

It’s the same with the Derby. Although there was some grousing about beefed-up security in the wake of 9/11, most patrons adjusted quickly and amiably. They accepted it as they did security checks at the airport. It was the price we have to pay for living in a world stained by terrorism. 

In the wake of the horrific events in Boston, officials at Churchill Downs and the Derby Festival reviewed their security plans. There probably will be some tightening, some additional officers hired. 

But the hard, cold truth is that there’s only so much that can be done. If a maniac wants to wreak havoc at a big public event, he or she will find a way. There is simply no way to guarantee anyone’s safety. 

I’m reminded of what Wes Unseld’s mother allegedly asked Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp when he wanted her son to integrate his program and the Southeastern Conference in the spring of 1964. 

“Mr. Rupp,” she supposedly asked, “can you guarantee my son’s safety when you go play in the Deep South?” 

“No,” Rupp said. “I can’t.” 

The coach’s detractors have said he recruited Unseld only because he was under pressure from UK President John Oswald and Governor Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt and that Mrs. Unseld’s question gave him the opportunity to make sure Unseld didn’t come to UK. 

I don’t believe that. I believe Rupp was being honest with Mrs. Unseld even though he knew he would lose a program-changing player. In 1964, after all, the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power in the Old South. Those terrorists would have thought nothing of attacking or even killing a black basketball player. 

So there are no guarantees when we attend a public event. Some, no doubt, will become fearful and stay away. In so doing, they will give the terrorists exactly what they want. But I’m convinced the majority of the American people will not be deterred from our constitutionally-guaranteed pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. 

In the wake of the infamous terrorist attack known as Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt  told us, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That’s every bit as true today as it was then. Fear cripples us and turns us into cowards. Fear robs us of our courage to do the right thing. 

During World War II, baseball was far and away the national pastime. In fact, instead of allowing the major leagues to cancel their seasons because so many stars were in the service, President Roosevelt insisted that the games be played. It was his way of saying, “In your face!” to our enemies. As represented by baseball, the American way of life would continue. 

The new movie “42,” about how Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, is about overcoming fear. Although he had the full support of baseball commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler (a Kentuckian), Brooklyn Dodgers principal owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford in the movie) and team captain Pee Wee Reese (also a Kentuckian), Robinson was the loneliest man in America every time he stepped on the field and heard the boos, the slurs, the racial epithets. 

But Robinson refused to give in to fear. He reacted like American heroes always do. He reacted like many did Monday in Boston. He rushed into the inferno instead of running from it. And those acts of bravery, as old as America itself, reaffirmed that we will never, ever let fear and terrorism get the better of us. 

Not even the Pope knows why God allows evil to exist in the world. But He does and we must deal with it every day on various levels. But as the saying goes, evil flourishes when good people do nothing. What we can do, besides being prudent and practical, is keep on doing what we normally would do – including attending public events.

I’ll bet there’s a record number of entrants at next year’s Boston Marathon. That’s the way we Americans roll. When we’re attacked, we pull together. We will never give in to terrorism. We will never be paralyzed by fear. 

I’m looking for a terrific Derby. I hope to see you around town.


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