A year later, #ElPasoStrong continues to have meaning
By Adrian Broaddus
Saturday mornings are always the same for our radio station. I’ve been an on-air cohost working for 600 ESPN El Paso for about two and a half years now. Monday to Fridays, I work with Steve Kaplowitz on SportsTalk. Saturday mornings I work with Brandon Cohn and on Aug. 3, 2019, I remember the show vividly.
During a break, we found out there was a shooter at the Cielo Vista Walmart as reporters urged everyone to avoid the area at all costs. Absolutely horrific. El Pasoans were being ambushed.
Twenty-two (now 23) people from El Paso and Mexico were brutally murdered by a white supremacist who came to the city solely to kill Hispanics. He came to inflict harm on our people here in El Paso.
How sports helped ease El Paso’s hurt
The El Paso Chihuahuas took the field at Southwest University Park four days after the shooting. Baseball was the last thought on everyone’s mind that night. Congregating at the ballpark meant uniting as a community, honoring those who were killed and witnessing something far greater than nine innings of baseball.
Players, none of whom were from the city, came out and spoke on how hurt they were from what happened.
Tributes at games proceeded over the course of the next few months. UTEP paid its tribute to the #ElPasoStrong movement and the victims of the shooting through all of its athletic activities. A moment of silence for the victims became a normal occurrence at every high school football game. Locomotive FC players, some who donated blood the day of the mass-shooting, stood beside fans for the rest of the season and continued to preach the #ElPasoStrong motto.
Sports were an escape and a healing mechanism for many El Pasoans during the fall.
Then came a moment that will be forever ingrained in El Paso sports history. On a Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Packers running back Aaron Jones rushed for a six-yard score and flashed “9-1-5 Strong” in his touchdown celebration.
After the game, UTEP’s all-time leading rusher wrote on Twitter, “EL PASO STRONG Always Reppin the City.” The moment, and the subsequent times when he threw the “9-1-5 Strong” celebration in other games, meant so much to the city.
El Paso has always been a tremendous community. But the entire city became family during the #ElPasoStrong movement.
During the fall, it was extremely difficult for me to talk about and remember Aug. 3. I felt like no one outside of the community really understood what it meant to be in El Paso during this time, amid the national spotlight and through political narratives. The feeling brought me a great deal of sadness.
Visiting the memorial
I couldn’t bring myself to go visit the makeshift memorial near Walmart for the first two months until I met Greg Moore, a sports columnist from the Arizona Republic. I got a call one day from one of my best friends who is also in the media, Diego Mendoza-Moyers, and he told me that Greg was coming to town to do a column on the tragedy.
I met with Greg and accompanied him while he was doing several interviews on the story. He asked if we could go to the memorial, which I agreed to.
As we walked out to the memorial from the parking lot adjacent to the Walmart, we saw a long memorial of everything from teddy bears with victims’ names to flowers, hand-painted signs and Bible verses. I shed a few tears but more than that, I stood there in disbelief. Two months later, the memorial stood as strong as ever and was still growing.
That’s #ElPasoStrong. The community that rallied together is #ElPasoStrong. This community, which has recently seen COVID-19 sweep the city, continues to show ways it can be #ElPasoStrong.
We must remember Aug. 3. It’s OK to feel saddened and still hurt by the massacre. How the city stood strong and continues to show its strength amid adversity is emblematic of #ElPasoStrong. The way we can rally together will help others speak their minds toward this tragedy so we may never forget the victims, their families and how the city rallied after Aug. 3.
Adrian Broaddus is a sports journalist for 600 ESPN El Paso.
Cover photo: El Paso artist Gabe Velasquez created a mural at 221 W. Yandell in the aftermath of the Aug. 3 mass shooting. (Robert Moore/El Paso Matters)