Over the past year, a large number of stories have been in the forefront of sports media with a common theme: death. Boxing all-time-great and former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali passed away June 6 of last year. Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in an boating accident at age 24 in September. Recent stories in the spotlight also include the prison suicide of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez and the tragic death of Boston Celtic’s Star Isaiah Thomas’ 22-year-old sister Chyna in a car accident within the past month. Another recent story that was somewhat buried by these other headlines was Baltimore Ravens’ franchise touchdown leader Todd Heap accidentally hitting and killing his three-year-old daughter with his truck on their property in Mesa, Arizona. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that any of these deaths are equal in gravity or situation, but they do have a looming sense of mortality that the world of sports doesn’t always talk about. Sports fans often view athletes as these superior beings who don’t deal with the casual problems of us normal human beings. When things happen on or off their respective area of expertise, it humanizes them. Death is one of the “certainties” of human life, along with taxes, that is certain to happen to everyone, and is a pretty terrible part of life. On the one hand, we expect these superior beings, in shoe commercials and interviews on ESPN, to handle it better than everyone else. On the other, we feel this extreme sense of sympathy and extend our condolences and love to help them through such a tough time that we can all relate to.
I’m never the one to say, “it’s just a game, it doesn’t matter,” because frankly, that’s not true. Sports are more than just games to so many people. It’s a lifestyle, a way to connect with people in your life. For some it is equal to a religious belief in their lives and a worldwide phenomenon. But these sometimes tragic, always mortal moments on the worldwide stage often shows that while athletes are superstars who make millions of dollars to entertain or break the hearts of fans by being the best in the world at what they do, they are still human. They aren’t perfect and don’t have perfect lives. They may have more fun and/or more luxurious lives than you or I, but that doesn’t mean their lives can’t come crashing down around them just like ours. Moments like these put into perspective the hateful insults and vicious crowds who want nothing more than something bad to happen to that player who they hate, just as much as idolizing these athletes and viewing them as supernatural.
Professional athletes demand respect on their respective fields with their play, but off the field, they don’t really have a defendant for their respect. While they get praise from fans, they also get plenty of unwanted negative attention in the spotlight. Dismissing athletes as dumb jocks who know nothing apart from their sport, calling young men “thugs” for keeping their childhood friendships, listening to hip-hop and buying luxurious vehicles or jewelry, are examples of how sometimes people or fans can be insensitive to these fellow human beings because there is this disconnect.
I understand many think that professional sports and professional athletes get too much attention and too much money already. I’ll easily admit many professional athletes aren’t great people. All I’m trying to say is that they are imperfect human beings, just like the rest of us. One should be cautious to throw harsh criticism and judgement at these men and women, and shouldn’t view these people as perfect individuals incapable of wrong-doing. We all share this planet with each other and should respect each other as such, even if LeBron James just single-handedly knocked your favorite team out of the playoffs.
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