My Memories of 9-11 As A Sports Reporter By Rich Coutinho Mets Beat Reporter @The New York Extra.com
Thinking so much of 9-11 the past few days I felt it might be appropriate to share my time as a sports reporter as I lived through those days.
At the time, I was working for various outlets including ABC Radio and was also handling Ad Sales Ops for The Bravo network. That morning I was driving towards Jericho in Long Island for an Ad Sales Conference as I began to hear reports on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
Reports kept coming in and as I was crossing the Whitestone Bridge the second plane hit the towers and we all began to realize this was an act of terrorism, Driving over the bridge the thought even crossed my mind that this bridge I was crossing could be the next target.
As I proceeded onto the Cross Island Parkway I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. Drivers beside me were holding their heads and I thought of the week before when I was in that building presenting Ad Sales proposals and wondered how the people I knew there (including my personal accountant) were doing and if they got out of the building alive. I found out later many of them did not.
When I arrived in Jericho, people became more sure of the terrorism acts when the Pentagon was hit. They closed all the bridges so returning home was not a option for me so I stayed in a local hotel watching the TV reports and finding out more about the attacks.
I walked around that night stopping to eat at a local diner and felt the pain of people at the restaurant who really had no idea if family members would EVER return home. I took a long walk that night after dinner realizing that the world I knew was way in my rear view mirror never to be seen again.
Talking to my parents that night on the phone I explained to them that much in the way the Empire State Building was their crowning landmark The World Trade Center was my landmark which symbolized the greatness of our country-two towers that hit the heavens connecting our dreams to reality.
Part of me died that day and will never come back as I lost four friends in the building including my aforementioned accountant.
The sports world came to a screeching halt and rightfully so with the baseball season delayed a week. Shea Stadium had become a holding area for supplies and before the resumption of the season, the Mets held a workout at Shea which I covered.
Sitting in the dugout that day I was still in a trance and I remember hearing planes fly overhead as I have done a million times. But every time a plane flew in the skies above Shea, my mind wandered to my friends who lost their lives and their children who now face the toughest of battles–losing a parent at a young age
Omar Minaya, who still works for the Mets noticed my reaction and so did Met manager Bobby Valentine who both pulled me aside to see if I was OK. Bobby said to me, “You’re a reporter and a damn good one Rich and you need to do what you normally do. If you don’t, the terrorists win and we can not have that.”
Those words snapped me out of my depression. Now don’t get me wrong–my friends were gone from this earth but Bobby Valentine made me know I had the responsibility to turn my life back to at least a semi-normal state. And he did it because he saw I needed a jolt and I will forever be in debt to him because of that moment.
It made me realize life goes on but that is more than just a cliche. I have been part of the lives of the children my friends left behind whether celebrating a birthday or graduation or just talking on the phone about their favorite subject-The Mets.
Baseball was my friend in the weeks that followed especially the first day back at Shea for a game when Mike Piazza let us all know life is still there for us to help others by bringing a smile to the faces of those suffering with grief,
9-11 came full circle covering a game in Philly on May 5, 2011 when news broke that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. In this new world as opposed to 2001 we all had smartphones and heard the news quickly. That night I slumped back in my chair and did not know what to feel. I knew both political parties would use this for their own purposes but that meant nothing to me. It felt appropriate I heard this news in Philly where so much history of our country began.
But I also now know that 9-11 changed the way we report on sports as athletes have become more involved in political issues. And that is great but we must also remember athletes, actors, and singers have a voice but it is no more important than your voice or my voice.
Social media has catalyzed the change and the days of sports reporting being the toy department in the media is gone forever. Much like our world was forever changed on 9-11.