It's been a sad couple of days in the world of sports, with the horrifying events that unfolded in Kansas City on Saturday, compounded by the death of longtime basketball coach Rick Majerus.
Linebacker Jovan Belcher's suicide, in front of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, after the 25-year-old shot and killed his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, was one of those headlines that arrests the eye and drops the jaw. It abruptly, mercilessly casts the game of pro football into stark relief as just that - a game - while presenting too many tragic thoughts to contemplate at once. The three-month-old girl now without parents. The darkness that must have seeped into a young man's soul. The sight that will never stop being a memory for a coach whose job is to mold men into winning, money-making products while still trying to have a positive impact on their lives.
I think about what I thought I knew when I was 25. I think about all I would have missed if I had only gotten 22 birthdays. I think all of the living two people had left to do.
I tell my stepdaughter often that young people can have tunnel vision, an inability to see past either the heart-pounding joy or the heart-wrenching awfulness of This Moment. I tell her this so she'll understand that she won't always view life this way. Then I read about Belcher, and I realize there is an element of choice involved in that. I pray she, and anyone who can't see past any present or future pain, makes better ones.
Majerus was 64, much further into a life lived largely on the basketball court, but no doubt with more he wanted to do, like take St. Louis, which won its first NCAA tournament game in 12 years in last season's trip to the third round, even further. There were probably a few recruits he was still getting to know, to whom he needed to teach some finer points of the motion offense, guys who needed some advice about off-the-court stuff and maybe a meal.
People my age remember Majerus in an XXL red-and-white sweater, coaching Utah to the 1998 national championship game. We also remember him leaving the Utes amid the fallout from an NCAA investigation that probed, among other things, violations that allegedly included the coach buying a player breakfast.
Majerus, with a long history of heart trouble, won 70 percent of the games he coached and had just one losing season in 25 years at four schools. Sometimes controversial and often odd - Majerus lived in a hotel suite near Utah's campus - the coach was revered by some former players, including Keith Van Horn, who made him a godfather to one of his daughters.
Coaches are unique creatures with a singular task, created to drill and discipline a plethora of personalities while still making them laugh, keeping the practices demanding but not too draining, the games important but in perspective. My daddy is, at heart and under the long-sleeved shirt that leaves him with distinctive tan lines in scorching South Carolina summers, a farmer, but he was also a teacher and a coach. I know he worried about his players and valued their opinions while earning their respect with his easygoing authority. He had his ups (a state softball championship and accompanying honorary bill in the S.C. Legislature in 1994) and downs (a frustrating season spent coaching junior varsity girls basketball when his own daughter was also a burgeoning teenage brat), but I know he loved being a coach. The framed and signed picture of that 1994 softball team still hangs in his office, and I hope his memories are happy ones.
Sports can, at times, consume too much of our time, energy and attention. After the Chiefs won just their second game of the season in the wake of Saturday's shattering events, quarterback Brady Quinn spoke eloquently of our current age of lives lived in social media, of the dangers of tweets and Facebook status updates taking the place of human contact, of the importance of making sure the people tagged in our photos know the value they have in our world.
I got some rather sad news myself this week. I learned a casual friend had died. As far as I know, he hadn't been ill. I didn't know him well, and I can't claim any kind of sorrow like others have experienced in the past few days at his passing. But it, too, makes me think - of the friends I message instead of calling, of all that awaits my child in a life spread in front of her like a shimmering Christmas dress, of whether my daddy knows how proud that picture makes me.
I can't control or change some of those things, but I can make more of an effort at others. It would be, to borrow a word, lovely, and more imperative than I may realize.