How does one handle news of tragedy in world of sports?
I received the news from my sister. She had called about something else, but wanted to know if I had heard about the death of Kobe Bryant. The former Los Angeles Lakers star was killed along with his daughter Gianna and seven other people in a helicopter crash that morning.
I was surprised if not shocked.You never expect to hear such sad news, but it happens. How we deal with news like this varies from person to person.
Though I am not a big NBA fan, I do follow the sport. Every sports fan knew Kobe and what he had done in the game of basketball. LeBron James had just passed Kobe for third on the all-time list of NBA scorers. Kobe, as expected, congratulated LeBron on his achievement.
After relaying the information to relatives who were visiting, we soon turned to other topics of conversation. I must admit that thoughts of the tragedy would not leave me for long however. Nine people on board the helicopter perished in the crash. Here is a list of the victims.
Kobe Bryant 41, his daughter Gianna 13, John Altobelli 56, his wife Keri 46, their daughter Alyssa 14, Christina Mauser 38, Sarah Chester 45, her daughter Payton 13 and the pilot Ara Zobayan 50.
One of the first reactions I had was to think of Davey Allison. A young superstar in the sport of auto racing, Allison also perished in a helicopter crash. He was piloting the craft and was attempting to make a landing at Talladega Superspeedway when the copter crashed.
A passenger in the helicopter, Red Farmer, was severely injured, but after a lengthy rehab would survive. Davey Allison did not survive the crash and the racing world mourned his passing.
I was on vacation when the Allison crash occurred. I remember vividly being in Wall Drug in South Dakota shortly after hearing of the death. I ran into a woman wearing a Davey Allison tee shirt and said to her, “you must be pretty sad today.”
She gave me a quizzical look and said simply, “Why?” At that point I realized she did not know anything about the crash and Allison’s subsequent death. I was the one who broke the news to her. The look on her face was one of sheer agony. That had more of an effect on me than hearing the news in the first place.
The woman quickly went on her way. I’ve often wondered how she dealt with the tragedy in the moments after she left me. I doubt she handled it well and I certainly didn’t like being the one to tell her about it.
Another thought that popped into my head after watching news reports about the crash, was the way it was reported. I even used the phrase in my third sentence. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other people died in the crash. For some reason the idea that the other seven people were not that important flashed through my brain.
Now, I know the media reports didn’t mean to suggest that, it is simply a fact that none of the other people were as famous as Kobe. Their lives mattered to a lot of people as well, which explains my thoughts on how to deal with tragedies such as this.
I would suggest that there is no “proper” way to deal with your grief. My reaction to the news of the death of a relative, neighbor or close friend would have been totally different. My reaction may not be the same as another person — and that’s OK. We all deal with death differently.
Finally, my thoughts on the tragedy centered on the young lives lost. Even though the adults were taken way too soon, the three barely teenagers will never get the chance to experience adulthood. That is so sad.
When my wife and I went through Oklahoma City, we stopped at the memorial for the victims of the federal building bombing. Inside the memorial, alongside a reflecting pool, are chairs for the deceased, arranged in rows representing the floors of the building. The first row is made up of kiddie chairs as some of the victims were preschool students in the basement. It is heartbreaking to see those chairs. When young people perish it hits a little harder.
There have been a number of tragedies in the world of sports. Some were individuals who lost their lives. Occasionally whole teams are victims such as the Marshall University football team, the Canadian junior hockey team, the South American soccer squad or the Bluffton College baseball team. All of these tragedies were tough to deal with.
Kobe Bryant will be missed, but so will all of the victims. How a person copes with these deaths will vary. That’s the way grieving works.
Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.
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