On October 1, 58 people were killed and over 500 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip. The disaster ranks as the worst shooting in United States history. It eclipsed the 49 killed at an Orlando, Florida nightclub last year.
It is the worst tragedy in the history of Nevada, and the city of Las Vegas.
The tragedy has nothing to do with sports; however, sports and tragedies have been inextricably linked over the years. A community rallying around the inaugural season of their first professional sporting team is the same community affected by this tragedy.
The community has embraced the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s time for the Vegas Golden Knights to embrace them back.
Golden Knights Chance to do Something Special Starts Now
In 2014, the NHL allowed William P. Foley to open a season ticket interest drive for a prospective Las Vegas-based franchise. The drive received 5,000 deposits on the first day, and had 10,000 just three months later.
When the League opened expansion franchise bidding a few months after, the number was at 13,200. A year later, Foley’s bid was approved by a unanimous vote. Since then, the Golden Knights presence in their new community has been highly visible.
The club has launched a 51/49 raffle for each home game. 51% of the pot will go to one lucky entrant. 49% will go to the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to have a “philanthropic impact” on the greater Las Vegas community relating to five pillars – youth developments and sports; health and wellness; education; military and first responders; and hunger and homelessness.
It is not groundbreaking charitable giving. Most teams in the NHL run a similar initiative, but the other teams in the NHL are not embarking on their cities’ first foray into professional sports this year. With the Knights, this all has a different feel to it.
Plenty has been made of another contrived attempt form the League to force itself on non-traditional markets. However, a mere glance at the team’s efforts, and the community’s reaction, shows you this is far from tokenistic. The Golden Knights are well aware of their market; its excitement for hockey; and its readiness for a professional sports team to call their own, and represent the city on the national stage.
Building a Fan Base in Under Represented Communities
In fact, Vegas are looking beyond the city limits to other areas underrepresented in professional sports. In August, highly prominent members of the team, including head coach Gerard Gallant, went on promotional road trip to Coeur d’Alene, ID, Whitefish, Deer Lodge and Bozeman, MT, and Salt Lake City, UT.
“Whenever you can give back in any way, shape or form, introducing someone to pick up a hockey stick, to play hockey with them and hopefully introduce them to becoming a player or a fan of the game, it’s very rewarding,” the team’s Senior Vice President Murray Craven told the Las Vegas Business Press at a Golden Knights community event.
However, what the Knights have been doing has to do with more than hockey. Team President Kerry Bubolz spoke of initiatives put on by the teams to ensure, after school, kids are off the streets, out of trouble, and on the ice.
“We’re going to help make the game more accessible and more affordable, from things like ice time, to equipment, to “learn to skate” programs, we’re going to find ways to make it more available to more people.
“You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have kids out in the parking lot having time playing street hockey.”
More Than Sports
It may be easy to say, but the proof is there – with the VGK, it’s about far more than hockey. Like any other sports franchise with a large corporate responsibility, and a large sphere of influence, Vegas are doing it right, and the community is responding.
Unfortunately, life just got tougher for their community than ever before, and the Golden Knights must be there.
At times like these, sports can seem highly irrelevant. In one sense, they are. Throughout history, sports franchises have been there when their community’s needed them.
Missouri Teams Respond to Crisis
The 2011 Joplin, MO tornado brought the state’s teams out of the woodwork in an incredible response. The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals organised charity auctions of memorabilia, game-used authentic baseball items and jerseys to raise money to donate to the cause.
The slightly more muscle-bound in the profession of football, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams, helped in the removal of debris, unloading trucks, and organising donations. So touched were they by the situation in Joplin, a number of Chiefs players, including Dustin Colquitt, Rodney Hudson, Brady Quinn and Luke Patterson, returned to the town a year later to continue to help where needed.
Alabama and Auburn Come Together
A similar situation confronted parts of Alabama, including Tuscaloosa; home to a campus of the University of Alabama and their football team, the Crimson Tide. Doubtlessly, the town’s treasure was there to help when their citizens needed rebuilding. This came after a tornado in 2011. They also got help from their biggest rivals, the Auburn Tigers.
“We can create a psychological escape for the people of this town. They have a great passion for sports, and we’ll be there for them,” Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban told Sports Illustrated.
“I’m just trying to brighten their days.”
Sometimes, brightening one’s day is all that can be done.
Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans Saints
Perhaps the most emblematic image of the correlation between sports and community are the oft-circled pictures of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims taking shelter in the Louisiana Superdome, home to New Orleans’ football team, the Saints.
Of course, the Saints players helped out where they could; but for a tragedy of this scale, the best help the team could provide came on the field.
At the time, the Saints were thought to be on the move – to San Antonio, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, even Toronto – anywhere that wasn’t New Orleans.
After damages to the Superdome in the storm, the team’s temporary home of the Alamodome in San Antonio became an even more likely permanent home. This caused the likely reaction by the people of New Orleans. In short, “we’re not about to let you use our city’s misfortunes to steal our team.”
As it were, the emotional storm about to hit New Orleans during the Saints’ 2006 season was no match for anything Katrina could’ve thrown at the city. The team made their return to the Superdome on September 25, 2006 with a 23-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons, marked by a dramatic blocked punt by safety Steve Gleason, which was returned for a touchdown – a moment now immortalised outside the stadium as a symbol of “New Orleans’ resilience in the face of disaster”.
It was the third win in a 10-6 season which saw a team of perennial losers go all the way to the NFC Championship. Three years later, they would be Super Bowl champions.
Perhaps the city’s mayor Ray Nagin put it best when he said, “psychologically, the Saints mean everything to this community right now.
“We need them now more than ever.”
The Situation in Las Vegas
Of course, the disaster confronting Las Vegas is different to the three mentioned above. It’s different to this year’s floods in Texas, for which Houston Texans defensive end an unofficial city mayor J.J. Watt has personally raised $10 million for.
Perhaps this situation Las Vegas finds itself in is even more horrible. Someone has attempted to take something away from the city – their people.
The Golden Knights cannot give back what was taken away in a similar fashion to how the above tragedies were remedied. Human life is too precious.
What they can give is hope. They can give it with their hands, where they are needed; they can give it with their money, where it is necessary; and they can give it with their influence, where it would make a difference.
In the upcoming season, starting at the T-Mobile Arena on October 10 vs the Arizona Coyotes, they can give a different kind of hope. A hope the city of Las Vegas has never known before.
No, it’s not the kind of hope the New Orleans Saints were able to offer their populous, with the backing of 40 years of history in the most popular sport in the state. Perhaps it’s the kind of hope that some in the city have not even considered.
Into the Community
This is a community-oriented team. They’ve shown it time and time again in their short time in the league. The Knights act exactly as if they were a sports team with 40 years of history in their city.
It won’t be repairing homes; it won’t be handing out aid; and it won’t be housing the homeless; but whatever is required in the city’s relief efforts, the team should, and must, be there.
When Vegas takes the ice for their home opener against Arizona, not far from the Mandalay Bay where this week’s horror unfolded, there will be a full arena. Some may understand, and some may not, what their team can offer them this season. I have faith, at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, all in Las Vegas will know the Golden Knights name.
This team’s chance to do something special starts now.
Edit: As we were writing this article, the Knights, in conjunction with the NHL, donated $300,000 to the victims of the shooting. It was the first action under the banner ‘Vegas United’, which will be supported League-wide. The Las Vegas-bound Oakland Raiders also pledged donations to the cause.
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