THE SPORTS DOCTOR- In their honor: Should teams play on after tragedy?
When Los Angeles Angels' pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by in a hit-and-run last year, the team leapt into action: a black patch with the number 34 was sewn onto all Angels' uniforms; Adenhart's photo, name and number were hung on the outfield wall; his jersey was hung in the dugout, and his locker kept as it was. The Angels didn't hesitate to postpone a game when it came to honoring one of their own, but on April 10, one day after Adenhart's death, they played ball.
For many people, athletes and non-sporting folks alike, getting back out on the field after a tragedy can seem tacky at best and callous at worst. If you're from West Virginia or have seen the movie We are Marshall, you remember the story of how the university rebuilt its football program after 75 people, including the entire football team, were killed in a 1970 airplane crash.
It's a triumphant and touching story, but one that almost never was. Lost in all the inspiration is the petition that called for Marshall to drop football altogether, pressure to which the administration nearly bowed. Does anyone still believe they should have?
On the evening of Tuesday, April 20, the Colorado Rockies scored a very important win. Troy Tulowitzki hit his first home run of the season, Ian Stewart had an RBI double in the second inning; the Rockies added eight more runs in the third, ultimately beating the Nationals 10-4. It wasn't an important win as far as the season goes, but considering the Rockies' beloved president, Keli McGregor, had been found dead in his hotel room that morning, it was incredibly important to the team.
In 2007, three Sioux City teenagers were on their way to a 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Iowa Games when team member Michael Britton, who was driving separately, lost control of his vehicle and died. The other members of the team, many of who were already at the tournament, had very little time to decide what to do. Should they just go home or should they stay and play? After talking, the team decided to put in another player and "play the tournament for Mike."
That's what teams do, and despite what many people believe, it's not cold or insensitive. Almost every account of a team's playing after a tragedy quotes a player as saying, "It was what he/she would have wanted."
"I think if Keli were still with us, he'd want us to go out there and play the game the right way," Tulowitzki said of the Rockies' president. "...to still play the game the way he would want us to play... and make him proud in that way."
Even with the Rockies' win, Tulowitzki acknowledged that the team wasn't very excited, seeing as how their president's death was foremost on their minds. When people criticize athletes who get back on the field after a tragedy, that's their main concern: playing the game means you don't care.
In fact, the opposite is true for teams and single sportsman alike. After golfer Ken Green lost his brother, girlfriend, son, and beloved dog, all in this past year, getting back on the course wasn't an easy decision, but ultimately it was the most healing thing Green could do for all of them.
"The thought of trying to play the game, play inside the ropes, that's just kept me going... I can't tell you what that does for my spirit," Green told NBC after playing in this year's Legends of Golf.
As the UVA lacrosse teams prepare themselves for the NCAA tournament, some players, coaches, parents, and fans undoubtedly feel conflicted about the appropriateness of playing so soon after the recent tragedies. In that they are not alone.
It couldn't have been easy for Joannie Rochette to skate her Olympic short program two days after her mother's death. Though deeply grieving, Rochette refused to give up on the dream she and her mother shared. And that's what those who are left behind have– the shared dream.
"You do it in [their] honor, that's what you do," Rockies' manager Jim Tracy said.
Is there any better tribute than that?
Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.