This weekend's New York City Marathon would have been a rallying point for a region full of people desperately in need of a feel-good day and the generous injection of cash accompanying the event.
This weekend's New York City Marathon would have been a loud insult to a city full of people desperately in need of the services of the police officers, fire fighters, and other emergency personnel, some of whom might have been diverted from the task of cleaning up the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy by a doomed and ill-considered spectacle.
The withdrawal of thousands of runners who either knew they couldn't have reached New York or had decided running would be inappropriate would have meant a relatively small field. No matter. The runners, elite and otherwise, who would have participated would have reminded New Yorkers and everybody else of the inspirational desire to strive, excel and prevail, whatever the circumstances.
The withdrawal of thousands of runners meant the race would have been a shadow of the joyful event it has been in the past. This year's race would have limped, rather than run, and the people with the leisure to cheer as the runners went by would have been vastly outnumbered by New Yorkers still trying to put their lives back in order after losing their power, their public transportation, and in some cases, their property.
Should the New York City Marathon have gone on as scheduled as a demonstration of determination, even in the face of disaster?
Was it right and proper to cancel it late Friday because this is no time and no place for a race?
People have probably debated the function of our games for as long as anybody has been playing them.
We condemn them as distractions from all sorts of concerns that should be more important than whether the home team covers the spread: family, work, social and political matters, and so on.
We celebrate them as distractions from all sorts of concerns that we're relieved to escape temporarily: personal and family problems, financial worries, social and political tangles so complicated that wrestling with them makes us yearn for contests in which the distinction between fair and foul, in bounds and out of bounds, is – unlike the parameters of the discussion of this issue - as clear as a white line on a green field.
This segment aired on November 3, 2012.