Major League Baseball: A Key Player in the Aftermath of Disasters

The MLB hit it out of the park again by helping us feel a little bit better after the Boston Marathon bombings .  It doesn’t matter what kind of disaster, whether a terrorist attack or natural disaster.  Major League Baseball puts rivalry aside, knowing there is more at stake than a win.  The ball games which are played on the day of a National tragedy, not far away from Ground Zero,  or soon after a tornado touches down near the home team’s  ball park,  helps the community to better cope and get through  these  traumatic events.

MLB  baseball plays an important role in healing a nation, community and individuals in the immediate aftermath of a  disaster.  I look at baseball players now more as  “First Responders” who deliver  what is called Psychological First Aid (PFA) by the disaster reponse community.  You only need to think back to the days following 9/11.  If you are a Red Sox Fan, remember when you sang, “New York, New York”  for all of us in the New York area.  More recently, Yankee fans reciprocated by singing Boston’s, “Sweet  Caroline”.   What I experienced on both occasions, were feelings of connectedness, safety and comfort.   Even though I was watching these games on TV,  I felt safer….I felt calmer (less stressed), I felt empathy….I felt like I didn’t dislike the Red Sox!  For a few hours, the Yankees and Red Sox were not mortal enemies.  We are capable of putting rivalry aside to help each other through these violent acts of terror or acts of nature which so disrupt our communities, our families, our lives.  Baseball in no small way, helps us get back to a sense of normalcy at a time when nobody feels normal.

SAMHSA defines PFA as:

“an evidence-informed approach and intervention, built on the concept of human resilience, to help survivors in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, crisis, or natural disaster.  PFA can help everyone—children, adolescents, adults, elders, and families.

Designed to reduce the initial distress caused by these events, PFA acknowledges the seriousness of the experience of danger and the increased feelings of vulnerability that often follow. PFA fosters long- and short-term adaptability, basic functioning, and coping skills.”

Basic objectives of PFA include the following:

  1. Enhance immediate and ongoing safety and provide physical and emotional comfort for survivors.
  2. Establish a non-intrusive, human connection and compassionate manner.
  3. Help survivors tell you specifically what their immediate needs and concerns are and gather additional information as appropriate.
  4. Offer practical help—food, water, blankets—to help survivors cope effectively with the situation at hand.
  5. Connect survivors as soon as possible to social support networks, including family members, friends, neighbors, and community resources.

In the aftermath of any traumatic event,  leaving one’s home (which may be a shelter) and going  to a baseball stadium or just watching a game on TV  may not be number one on the list of things to do.  But, if you look at PFA’s  five objectives, watching a baseball game may be a way to apply some of the PFA core objectives in a non-obtrusive way. Some fans may seek comfort in being with other fans, while others may come to collectively grieve.  Think about how calming listening to a ball game on the radio is.  Watching a survivor and his/her loved ones along side a row of First Responders, tossing the first pitch, shows that we are resilient. Communities can, and do, recover.  The MLB helps by simply saying, “Play Ball!!”

For more information from SAMHSA Coping with Disasters and Traumatic Events go to: www.samhsa.gov/trauma/

Pam H. is a remote PRA employee and volunteer Psychological First Aid (PFA) provider from the Jersey Shore area.

Behavioral health, Trauma