Strangers to Death

One of Miami (FL)’s top defensive players was murdered Tuesday night, and the question throughout sports radio these past couple of days is whether or not Miami should have 1) had the team practice on Wednesday and 2) agreed to play this weekend against Maryland (#23).

The major points made by Dan Patrick and Keith Obermen along with their emailers today was that this would be a great way for the players to make tribute to their murdered teammate, and to grieve his loss.

However, I am struggling to see that connection. In a Church History course this semester my professor claimed that Americans believe the appropriate length of grief, on average, is 2 1/2 weeks (you can email the prof for citations). In other words, we are afraid of death, we do not know how to handle death, and therefore we avoid talking about death and grief.

I can see that avoidance through this concept of paying tribute to the dead teammate. To put it bluntly, the teammate is dead, he will receive no benefit from the game being played (so the argument that he would have wanted them to play is moot, because it is not about him but rather it must become about his teammates.)

In CPE this summer, I realized how much I, myself, avoid emotion, especially strange and uncomfortable emotions. And rather than trying to embrace and be stretched by that raw emotion, I tend to want to diffuse the situation through avoidance and ill-timed humor. Dan Patrick today spoke about his brothers and sisters waiting around for someone to crack a joke at his father’s funeral, because no one knew how to they should act. And Keith Obermen spoke about appreciating the fact that he had to go on-air 3 hours after 9-11, basically for the next 40 days, which helped him avoid having to address those emotions. He said, “I do not know what I would have done.”

In other words…he, nor I, failed to discover how to grieve because we’d rather avoid that learning experience. Our culture teaches us to avoid grief, and that allows us to avoid the fact that we, ourselves, are constantly near death. Instead, culture tells us that we should continue playing a game “to honor the dead,” or more appropriately “to help us from having to address those strange and awkward emotions of grief.”

When one looks at the Jewish community, I forget which branch, and sees their tradition of grieving of a loved one for an entire year, we often think how strange and impractical. But isn’t it strange only because our culture now believes the appropriate length of grief is 17 days, afterwhich we should then be prepared to get back into the fast pace life we are accostumed to by avoiding, escaping and bottling up these emotional opportunities for growth, self-examination and ultimately Revelation.

Because otherwise, we are thrown back into a culture where the day Corey Liddle died in a plane crash, Peter Gamens was asked, “So how will this impact the Yankees rotation?”

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