We buy a ticket to a sporting event. We walk through the turnstile and grab a hot dog and beverage and mosey to our seats. We watch our favorite players on our favorite teams take the field/ice/court. We laugh with our buddies. We tell stories to our kids. We are the humans, and the athletes on the field are larger than life to us. But when they step off the field; when they take the uniform off; when they (pardon the cliche) put their pants on one leg at a time - they are just as human as we are. Sure, their autograph may be worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars, where ours isn't worth the paper we sign, but they have human emotions just like we do. They have the same joys we do (albeit, slightly more extravagant) and they feel the same pains.
Yesterday, we were once again reminded of the human side of athletes. Washington Capitals goalie, Jose Theodore lost his 2-month old son. No details have been released, but really, do we need any? Are we that morbid of a society? All I could think about, as a father myself was, what must the family be thinking? How can they overcome such a tragedy? I'll get to go home from work tonight and give my son a kiss. And tomorrow night and the night after that and every night I can imagine from here till the end of time. Theodore does not have that luxury anymore. And his pain is not magically lessened because he is an athlete and makes millions of dollars. His pain and grief are just as great as mine would be. Or yours would be, in the same situation.
For years we watched in awe of what Mike Tyson could do inside a boxing ring. Then we laughed and mocked him when he became a human paraya. He started biting ears, raping women and had seemingly lost all his marbles. But then, earlier this year, he lost his 4-year old daughter. Suddenly, his shenanigans didn't seem so funny anymore. No matter how big and tough he was, no matter what his life's transgressions were or are, nobody deserved to feel the pain he must have felt when his little girl died. Whatever wrongs he did, to lose his child had to make even a tough guy like Tyson crumble worse than any opponent he destroyed in the ring.
Most athletes don't mourn publicly. And they shouldn't. It's a private moment for them to share with family and loved ones. They need the support of family and friends in times of grief, no different than you or I. But sometimes, we are reminded publicly that when an athlete loses someone, it has a very adverse effect on them. In February, 2004, one of the greatest baseball relief pitchers of the 1980s and early 1990s, Jeff Reardon, lost his son to a drug overdose. Like most people, Reardon mourned. But his mourning led him down a dark path. First, Reardon did little more than sit in a dark room with the shades closed. Then, almost two years after his son's death, Reardon was arrested and charged with armed robbery. He was found not-guilty by reason of insanity. What guilt must this poor man have felt to go into such a deep depression following the loss of his son?
Guilt. Depression. Remorse. Sadness. Pain. All emotions felt by such big, strong athletes. All emotions that you and I feel, too. Larger than life? Sure - when they are hitting a baseball, catching a touchdown, scoring a goal or slam dunking a basketball. But off the field, they are just as human. Imagine this - you are at work one day and your boss calls you in to tell you he has bad news. He tells you that he just got off the phone with the police and unfortunately your spouse has been found dead. Now, assuming you had nothing to do with it, how would you react? Well, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Scott Schoeneweis had to deal with that very reality this year 30 minutes before a game vs. the Florida Marlins. His 14-year old daughter had found his wife dead in their home. The fact that Schoeneweis can throw a ball over 90-mph or that he makes around a million dollars a year does not lessen his pain. He has to deal with the pain just like you and I do. He has to go comfort his teenage daughter and call his in-laws and try to be as supportive as possible. All this, while dealing with his own sadness.
Athlete is just their job title. The rest of the time, they are just a wealthier, probably more in shape version of you and me. Athletes cry too.