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The New York City Marathon Is Not Post-Sept. 11 Baseball, And More Reasons To Cancel

Nov 2, 2012

I'd almost forgotten about the NYC Marathon, thanks to Sandy, and when I did remember that this is "Marathon Weekend," I just assumed it would get cancelled.

As of this writing, the ING New York City Marathon is not cancelled. But it should be. Immediately.

I understand how much training goes into a marathon, how long the runners spend preparing, and how hard it is even to get a number in the New York City version. I can only imagine how much planning a sporting event of the marathon's size and sprawl must require, coordinating with police and medical personnel, sanitation, meteorologists, juice-table-ologists — it's a troop movement, literally. It's disappointing if it doesn't come off.

But there's disappointment, and then there's a still-rising death toll; fights breaking out on gas lines around the tri-state area; city schools closed for the fifth straight day; power outages that, while they may lift later today, continue to blanket a huge chunk of Manhattan, not to mention Long Island and North Jersey; entire neighborhoods in Staten Island burnt down to the foundation pilings. The marathon will draw key resources away from rescue and relief efforts, including police, EMS, clean water — and power. The generators powering the marathon's tents in Central Park could restore electricity to 400 homes in Staten Island.

This is all provided the runners can get here from out of town, or in from the airport. It's still extremely slow going getting around the city, and if you have to cross a river at any point in your journey, you'd better have good sneaks and some trail mix. Now, just as the transportation system is heaving itself back onto its knees, the marathon will shut down swaths of the city — the Verrazano, where the race starts; 4th Avenue, one of Brooklyn's main arteries; the Queensboro Bridge. The marathon makes it difficult to get around the city on the day, and we don't need any more of that right now.

What we really don't need any more of is the "Race to Recover" rhetoric that positions the marathon as a much-needed boon for tourism, or a symbol of the city's resilience, and we absolutely don't need any more ill-advised comparisons between holding the marathon after Sandy and playing baseball after 9/11. Leaving aside the fact that, in the city, baseball didn't resume for ten days (the marathon is giving us five), baseball is the national pastime; I didn't love how many things got co-opted as symbols of American gumption in the autumn of 2001, but baseball is the exception. Resuming a sport that's identified with the entire country, after a terrorist attack on, really, the entire country — it's elegant symbology.

Sandy is a natural disaster, and even if the infrastructure were ready, which it ain't, whom or what, exactly, are we showing that life in Gotham will go on — climate change? The jet stream? And is New York really obligated to demonstrate that at all, at this late date? Is there anyone in the world who's like, "New Yorkers: what a bunch of passive little daisies"? We have nothing to prove, and if we did, it'd be a lot easier to do that if we could see one damn thing below 34th Street, so if the marathon wants to make itself a heroic emblem of support for New York City, great. Let the planners donate time and resources to struggling communities in the area, instead of making cynical pronouncements about our "resilience" that are code for "it's a hassle to reschedule it," then expecting the city and its small businesses to thank them.

And we will thank them — later. Right now, we need to rebuild, and if the marathon can't help us with that in a real, logistical way, then it's just in the way.

TomatoNation.com's Sarah D. Bunting got very lucky and didn't lose power, water, or loved ones to Hurricane Sandy. Holler if you need her wifi password.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.