In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which left millions in the northeast without electricity and caused widespread death and destruction, the New York City Marathon was wisely postponed. Mayor Mike Bloomberg had hoped that the annual event, which attracts runners from across the globe, could be held as planned. However, given the grave circumstances facing his constituents, media outcry, and widespread social media criticism, he wisely recanted.
The New York Marathon draws more than 40,000 participants and is viewed by more than 300 million people worldwide. Additionally, the 26.2 mile race is a huge revenue booster for the city's coffers, as the race brings in $340 million, according to a study commissioned by AECOM, a consulting firm employed by the race organizers. Furthermore, the race annually raises more than $24 million for a variety of charities, thanks to sponsored runners and other cause-marketing promotions.
Still, Bloomberg made the right decision.
With NYPD and other service workers needed desperately in places such as Staten Island, where the marathon begins, holding the race would have taken these vital public servants away from the task of helping people whose lives have been changed forever by Sandy's fury. Already, they have been living in these unthinkably tough conditions for nearly a week.
Although many runners who flew to New York, in part because Mayor Bloomberg insisted the race would go on, were understandably upset, some of them made the best of a bad situation. A few resourceful individuals organized a "Run Anyway" Facebook page and decided to lap Central Park four times to complete 26.2 miles. Some 2,000 runners participated. This was a throwback to the New York Marathon's beginnings before the race became a five-borough event and it avoided having to block off streets in an already challenged metropolis.
Others decided to utilize their unexpected free time in a meaningful way. Thousands of runners traveled to Staten Island and helped aid residents by bringing them water, t-shirts and blankets, or by helping them sort through the damage done to their homes. The volunteers included 2009 NYC Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi, who said he wanted to do something positive since he could not run. By doing so, he proved to be a winner in 2012.
Natural disasters and tragedies have postponed major sporting events in the past, of course. The New Orleans Saints lost the Superdome as their home for the season due to devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Major League Baseball, the NFL and the Ryder Cup all postponed activities following the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
However, sports also help people overcome adversity. New York Mets and Yankees players volunteered to work alongside rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center. A few days later, Mike Piazza's emotional game-winning home run during the first game played at Shea Stadium following the terrorist attacks now ranks as one the most memorable baseball moments in recent history. Likewise, the New Orleans Saints helped restore civic pride and inspired fans to overcome their adversity in Louisiana.
Following tragic, real-world life events, sports can seem trivial. However, they also can be a powerful vehicle for healing. During challenging times, athletes such as Piazza and Keflezighi demonstrate to us all what it means to be a winner.
Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy,New York Jets President Neil Glat, and Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. Earlier in his career, Jed coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @jedhughesKF.