A WORD, PLEASE

[firstperson on. never a good sign.]

Okay, so I'm typing along this morning, and notice that not one, but two people mentioned in the Curious Index were involved in shootings. Not the kind of random, snatch-and-grab commodity exchange type of shootings; no, we're talking direct, intent-to-kill shootings where one person, filled with undefined rage over being "disrespected," decides to discharge a small piece of metal at high speed in someone's direction hoping to injure, maim, or kill them.

The act is purely senseless, a classic cocktail of status fear, insecurity, judgment blurred by alcohol, and misbegotten ideas about masculinity mixed with easy availability to cheap, powerful handguns. It happens all the time, but the regularity of an event does not excuse or diminish its petty atrocity, and it shouldn't. The error in the bystander is, for one instant, touching the live wire of someone's horrible tragedy for even an instant and realizing its full voltage and magnitude.

I would not, for even an instant, want to assume I understand that kind of loss. I imagine it's worse than anything I've ever experienced, and even then the pain would be indescribable under any terms I have at my command.

I do want to say two quick things, though.

In the time spent cataloging the Fulmer Cup, I have realized two things that I am absolutely convinced I was, as a college football fan and person, grievously wrong about in retrospect.

One, that I'm personally far more sympathetic to coaches who give a player a second chance than I used to be, and that is mostly because of my own experiences working with refugee youth. It is very, very easy to slam a coach for being permissive of bad player behavior, or for giving someone a second chance after they've very nearly driven their own life (and others') into the ditch.

Yet, I've seen what happens when you raise kids in a place like Southern Pines apartments just around the corner here in Decatur, either in whole family units (largely lucky) or in fractured familial arrangements (largely unlucky.) It's like many of the Fugees came from: neighborhoods of neglected, ramshackle apartments fraught with violence, the ambient anger of poverty, and potholed parking lots with kids running loose and unsupervised. I will tell you that it is the saddest thing in the world until you start talking to some of them. Then, you have a new saddest thing in the world to put on the gold medal podium of sad things, because the stories and circumstances are even worse when you hear them for yourself.

I know some college football players come from similar neighborhoods, black and white. Those of you blessed with impulse control, discipline, and a solid ethical foundation didn't pull it from the aether; it came to you via a series of benefactors, witting or unwitting, who helped you become the person you are.

There are places, though, where these benefactors do not exist. In some cases sport and coaching provides it for them. I don't think every coach is sincere when he says he loves his kids; there are liars, charlatans, and lizard-brained reptiles in coaching, just as there are in every profession. Above all, the M.O. remains winning, winning, and winning, especially the higher up you go in college football's hierarchy.

Yet I think there are some who genuinely, above all else, care deeply about helping kids--and deny it or not, but at 18 you remain an infant in an adult's body. I think Mark Richt sincerely loves his players, and not just because he's a declared Christian do-gooder, but I think that even if raised a Muslim, or Buddhist, or atheist, or Zoroastrian, or whatever, that he'd just be the sort of person that, while kicking gridiron ass along the way, would simply want to help. I think, given the evidence, that the same was true of Lloyd Carr, and Randy Shannon, and even ol' milquetoasty Chan Gailey, God Bless his run run dropped pass punt soul.

If they decide to forgive an offense, I can't be that angry about it anymore on offense one. Seeing both sides of the coin--the potential realized and the horrific waste--sports is really the primary academy for many football players. It is their ethics class, their economics lesson, their surrogate family. If a coach errs on the side of forgiveness rather than dismissal within principled guidelines and with adequate punishment, I can't fault them, and won't. It's too easy, too facile.

Sure, they could transfer, but for every Colt Brennan there's an Avery Atkins, the Florida transfer who dropped out of Bethune-Cookman, civil society, and ultimately this mortal coil. Young minds and souls who can hang clean 300 pounds remains surprising fragile in some respects. I can't, for the most part, condemn forgiveness within reasonable bounds.

Second, the thing I've realized is that even when you adopt the guise of humor as an emollient for something as horrible as a random shooting, there's still a hangover just from touching the story through the fingertips. The shooting death of Bryan Pata still makes me tear up just thinking about it. So does today's report of former Marshall player Donte Newsome, or thinking about the lost potential of an Avery Atkins, or even thinking about the god awful story of someone who life abused as thoroughly and cruelly as Patrick Willis, the former Ole Miss linebacker who survived an upbringing of violence, abuse, and crushing poverty.

This shouldn't turn into a "What is Wrong With the World Today" schpiel, though it may already have. However, consider the case of someone who, for a time, wanted to play a kid's game, perhaps learn some discipline, work well with others, and then perhaps take some of those learned patterns of behavior into humdrum, workaday society while raising a family, paying their bills, and serving as a loving, responsible member of their community.

Now, consider the insanity of someone young enough to do all of this and serve as a net gain for the universe getting killed for no reason at all. None. Economically speaking, it's a net loss. Logically speaking...there is no way of speaking about it logically. Emotionally speaking, it's madness, and when I really think about it the words fall into a silent white chasm of incomprehension. The rest is just bone-deep sad all over the place without reason or rationale.

[/first person off. Funny returns in a moment.]

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