This past year, the world of baseball tragically lost two young, promising and admired players: Yordano Ventura and José Fernández. Fans made tributes in the wake of their passing, remembering the players’ character, grit or fire shown on and off the field. Both were memorialized during their teams’ respective home opening days this month. It may now be time to make an important observation: both of their deaths, while tragic, could have been avoided.
My effort in pointing this out is not to taint the legacy of these players. We remember actors like Chris Farley and John Belushi, and the laughs they brought us while also not forgetting that it was drug abuse that caused their deaths. Much in the way that President Ronald Reagan diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease made the illness a more prominent issue, a hero’s legacy can be equally drawn from their life and death.
In a similar way, the commonalities between the deaths of Ventura and Fernández should not be ignored for the sake of reverence. Each of them died operating a vehicle—Ventura, a car, and Fernández, a boat—recklessly and while intoxicated. Furthermore, Ventura was not wearing his seat belt, and Fernández had cocaine in his blood, something “totally out of character” for him, according to the family’s attorney. To make matters worse, though ESPN’s Christian Moreno reported that Ventura was “under the influence” at the time of the accident, Dominican authorities did not and will not release Ventura’s toxicology report to corroborate the claim.
It is already known that driving under the influence kills tens of thousands of people every year in the United States alone. There’s also NHTSA’s snappy “click it or ticket” campaign on seatbelts. Speeding also causes deaths similar in volume to drunk driving.
Unsuccessful efforts like these are frequently made by the United States government in order to curb dangerous behavior or bring awareness to prominent issues, but putting a well-known face on these issues can bring them to light without ruining the person’s legacy. If anything, it enhances it. Reagan is remembered first as an American president, not as a man who died of Alzheimer’s disease. Robin William’s suicide brought attention to mental illness without diminishing his laughter-filled career. Anthony Hopkins, best known as the frightening Hannibal Lecter, has shown how one can recover from alcoholism. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is best remembered as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the baseball legend made his illness public.
It’s true that the vice that took Ventura and Fernández, unlike a surprise illness, was largely preventable. But that doesn’t make their deaths any less tragic, nor does it mean that remembering the causes of their deaths would turn young baseball stars into reckless drunkards. There’s a reason that NHTSA doesn’t campaign against drinking itself. All it takes is a thought of “I’m fine, I can drive” to turn a night of celebration into a night of tragedy. Reckless driving campaigns would be far more effective with the faces of Ventura and Fernández, baseball superstars, than an unnamed teenager sending a text at the wheel. So now that we’ve mourned and said our goodbyes to the both of them, it’s time we start talking about how tragedies like these can be avoided in the future.
Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Star.