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VPR Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb reflects on yesterday's school shooting in Texas

Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb sitting at the board in Master Control.
Daria & Andy Bishop
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Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb departed from his usual sports report in light of yesterday's horrific shooting at a Texas elementary school.

It's 6:45 a.m. and normally this is when you'd hear the Sports Report on Morning Edition, and I apologize for not having that for you today. I guess I'm having some trouble putting the proverbial "one foot in front of the other" this morning, and it didn't help that I didn't get a ton of sleep last night. But those are really just excuses.

The truth is that given the events that occurred in Texas yesterday, the news of what happened in the games people play — even at a professional level — seem not to matter much. And so, while I'd prefer to be talking about where things stand in the NHL and NBA Playoffs and whether the Boston Red Sox can extend their season-high winning streak, it doesn't feel relevant or right to do so today.

And please let me acknowledge my own hypocrisy here, because if I were to fairly apply the standard I'm using today, it would be nearly impossible to issue a daily sports report.

More from NPR: What we know so far about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas

The independent data collection organization Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2021, mass shootings in America occurred at a rate of about 10 a week.

That means the grief that's being felt by that community in Texas today and that has spilled over for the rest of us is felt pretty much on a daily basis by people all over this country. We notice it more when it's a tsunami that hits us like Uvalde, like Parkland, like Las Vegas or Sandy Hook.

But that feeling of an anvil that's fallen on our collective hearts today is felt by so many others we don't hear about every day — often in parts of the country plagued by a steady thrum of gun violence that most affects the neediest among us. I read about sports on those days, too, so I must recognize my own double standard.

But all I can think of right now is that it's 6:45 a.m. in the morning and that means that right now my kid is getting ready to go to school. Like millions of other kids all across the country who are getting ready to go to school.

"But that feeling of an anvil that's fallen on our collective hearts today is felt by so many others we don't hear about every day — often in parts of the country plagued by a steady thrum of gun violence that most affects the neediest among us."
Mitch Wertlieb, VPR Morning Edition host

And the teachers who have dedicated their professional lives to educating and inspiring these kids are getting ready to go to school. And the bus drivers, school administrators, principals, nurses, guidance counselors, custodial staff and the people who maintain the grounds are all getting ready to go to school right now.

And you've been getting up every day to go to school through two-plus years of a pandemic, adapting to remote learning, and putting up with abuse from people too angry or misinformed to understand that putting a piece of cloth over your face to protect others from disease is not a trampling of freedom, but a sane public health precaution.

And I guess if I have to tie this into sports somehow, I wish that all you educators and students and people who work at our schools every day had thousands of people cheering your efforts. I wish a teacher's name could be chanted every time a child is given a book that opens their mind and inspires them to see the grandeur of what is possible through imagination and hope.

I wish every math teacher who helps a kid solve a problem they couldn't before had their names raised to the school rafters for making that kid feel smarter, and ready to tackle other problems they encounter in any educational discipline they're taught.

I wish you had your own sneaker deal from a big shoe company or could collect a fat paycheck for appearing in a 30-second car-rental ad.

More from VPR's But Why: Talking To Kids About Violence In the News

But you get up every day and do your jobs anyway, knowing that's not going to happen. You do your jobs even when fear and uncertainty breaks with the dawn. You deserve so much more, and so do the kids you endeavor to teach and take care of every day.

But most of all — if you'll indulge a bit more of the sports metaphor — most of all, you deserve better coaches, or more to the point, a better front office that's willing to face the fact that their strategy for winning is not working and hasn't been working for a very long time.

In sports, when a game plan isn't working, when there's loss after loss after loss, you either change that plan or you get a new coaching staff that's willing to implement one. The difference, of course, is that in sports, when a team fails, they lose a game, or a series or a trophy.

More from VPR: After racist mass killing in Buffalo, NAACP leaders reflect on threat of white supremacy in Vermont

But outside the arena, off the field, off the court, off the ice, away from the places where people are paid exorbitant amounts of money to play the games they played as kids, things much more important than a game are being lost.

The price we all pay for those losses is beyond measure and the cost is massive grief. We can choose to keep playing the same game, suffering the same losses. Or we can try to change the rules that keep leading to them.

I apologize again for those of you who just wanted a rundown of sports news this morning. I will do my best to get back to it tomorrow. I'd certainly prefer it.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station WBUR...as a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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