In the past week, two very large American sports figures passed away somewhat suddenly. Despite drastically different circumstances, the reaction to the two deaths reminded us all of how human we are, and how quickly life can be taken away. And, when you’ve spent most of your life in the public spotlight, how fond memories, quiet reminiscence and archived footage can be the sole purveyor of what was a lifetime of inspiration gone in a flash.
On Sunday, the world lost two enormous sports figures in Jose Fernandez and Arnold Palmer. Understandably, the sports world grieved the loss of two beloved figures–a young and already dominant Major League Baseball pitcher who perished in a boating accident, and man known as
The King, one of the best golfers in the history of the sport. In the midst of the disbelief and grieving process, however, there is more than just grief and tragedy. There is a sense of bonding as human beings and a sense of togetherness when people in such high stature are taken from us.
Death in absolutely any capacity whatsoever is a tragic circumstance. A life ended becomes a life remembered rather than one experienced or interacted with. When the death happens in the public eye, the number of mourners goes from hundreds to potentially millions. No longer is it friends, family and coworkers who are bowing their heads in utter despair–it’s fans, it’s teammates, it’s countries–it’s humans.
These deaths can bind us as fans, and as empathetic human beings. When Fernandez passed away at the age of 24, his team, the Miami Marlins, canceled their game that afternoon. Other teams around the country honored him with moments of silence–articles about his personality as well as athletic talents began popping up left and right, as did stories of Fernandez the man. The New York Mets–the team Fernandez was set to face on Monday–hung a jersey in the dugout in his honor. Despite being bitter rivals, people everywhere came together to recognize tragedy, and remember who he was and what he contributed to the world.
This isn’t to say that any one death is more tragic than any other–the deaths of Fernandez, Palmer, Prince, Elvis or anyone else in the public eye aren’t inherently more heartbreaking than the death of your cousin or your neighbor. But they do help us understand more about the recovery process and how we, as human beings can sympathize and empathize even with people whom we aren’t acquainted. When Fernandez and Palmer passed away, many people who had never met either of them undoubtedly stepped away to shed tears. These are our heros–these are people whom we look to to distract ourselves in times of dire sadness. They are human beings who are gone before we know it, and leave the Earth without truly grasping the effect that they had.
I am reminded similarly of the piece I wrote on my website just a little bit ago on the power of the Olympics binding us together as national fans. It is a bittersweet feeling to recognize the power of death to do the same. No one in their right mind would say that the deaths of Fernandez, Palmer, or any of the thousands of other deaths that undoubtedly occurred across the world on Sunday were beneficial. But we can say for certain that we as mourners, as sports fans, and most of all as humans, can be brought together through tragedy.