Most of the time, my life revolves around sports: I write for Dime, I scour the rumor mills, and I’m constantly playing basketball or some other sport in my off hours. Like most fans, I take the games seriously. But even though it’s hard to get over a 12-win season by my New Jersey Nets or another late-season collapse by my New York Mets, eventually over time I’ll get over things like that. Sometimes, however, there are true tragedies in sports — such as the Lorenzen Wright story — that are not as easy to get over, and stick with me to this day.
Wright’s suspected murder, a crime which left six children fatherless and took away one of the NBA’s well-known nice guys, drudged up memories of some other sports tragedies that have impacted me personally.
(NOTE: I’m only 19 years old, so I don’t remember or wasn’t alive during events like Reggie Lewis’ passing, Drazen Petrovic’s car accident, or Len Bias’ cocaine overdose. This is a purely personal piece about moments that have stuck with me over time, and events that I don’t include doesn’t mean they aren’t significant, it just means their impact wasn’t as lasting on me personally. I encourage you all to share your stories or memories in the comments section.)
Corey Koskie’s baseball career ends
Tragedy is a bit strong to describe this first item, but it certainly fits as something that has had a great deal of impact on my life. In 2008, I suffered a nasty concussion playing pickup basketball, and had a really rough time with headaches, lack of focus, and mood swings. During that time I would always look for pro athletes who had dealt with or were dealing with concussions, and I came across Corey Koskie. Koskie was the starting third basemen for the Minnesota Twins in the early 2000’s and was known for his defense. He later played for the Blue Jays and Brewers.
While with the Brewers in 2006 he suffered a concussion chasing a foul ball and was never the same. He wasn’t himself the rest of the 2006 season, and had to sit out the entire 2007 campaign. He has tried on a couple of occasions to return to baseball, but the symptoms of light sensitivity, headaches and fatigue have not yet gone away four-plus years since the accident. He has officially retired from baseball, and to me the fact that he was forced to retire validated my post-concussive experiences. I had so much trouble doing everything I was used to, and most people I knew — friends, family, teachers — never understood or appreciated what I was going through. To be able to look up and see a prominent person like Corey talk about the symptoms and pain he experienced, it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through a bad concussion anymore.
I have since recovered thankfully and now play basketball three or four times a week, but the fact that Corey could not continue his MLB career because of his concussion, is something that really affects me because of my prior experiences.
Eddy Curry’s life
Eddy Curry hasn’t died or become paralyzed, but there is no current NBA player that I feel worse for than Curry. His whole life seems to be falling apart more by the year, and with his injury issues he seems destined to be out of the League after his current contract expires. To me, it seems like Curry never wanted to be in the NBA in the first place. He seems disinterested, lazy and just otherwise sad about the toll his life has taken on him.
Curry wanted to be a gymnast growing up — he was actually an all-state gymnast in high school — but was essentially forced into basketball because of his size. Eddy was drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls right out of high school, so in addition to making the tough adjustment being in the NBA that young, he also had the weight of post-Jordan expectations on his shoulders that he could never live up to. He had a heart ailment in 2005 and was traded to the Knicks, where he was given a monster contract and has failed to meet the demands of New York.
His off-the-court problems are even worse, as his ex-girlfriend and baby daughter were murdered, he had a sexual harassment case brought against him, and is reportedly practically bankrupt — and even right now has a warrant out for his arrest stemming from a civil case. It’s all just so upsetting to me because Curry’s life symbolizes how hard it can be for some kids to adjust to the lavish pro lifestyle at such a young age. Unfortunately, Curry will be remembered after his career most likely for his sad life than his on-court ability. It’s a real shame.
Rodney Rogers becomes a paraplegic
I always thought Rogers was a bit overrated as a player. He was always a little overweight and didn’t use his size enough, content to just stand behind the three-point arc and launch away. However, he was still an NBA player, a guy who grinded for 16 years in the League, and that takes a lot to be able to say that.
So when I heard that Rogers had been paralyzed from his shoulders down in an ATV accident, I was shocked. It just didn’t seem true; here was a guy who played at the highest level of basketball for 16 seasons, and now he couldn’t move anything besides his head. It was eye-opening to think that a pro athlete still so young could seem so helpless. I saw a picture of him recently in the customized chair he lives in, and read how he can’t feed himself, and it is just heartbreaking.
It made me realize that nobody is invincible, not even the strongest, most athletic men in the world, from becoming physically incapable of doing anything other than breathing essentially.
This wasn’t a sports-specific tragedy but a worldwide tragedy that affected every facet of American life, including sports. Major League Baseball cancelled games for a few days, and the NFL cancelled a weekend’s worth of games. When baseball resumed, it didn’t seem like it would matter, but to myself and so many others it indicated a return to normalcy. As a Mets fan I remember watching their first game after 9/11 against the Braves. It is to date the most memorable game in any sport I’ve ever watched. I remember before the game seeing the American flags waving, the salutes, the incredible joy that people had in being an American, it was inspiring.
Once the game started the electricity flowing through my body was unimaginable. The Mets were pretty much out of the playoff race at that point, but I felt they just had to win. They had to. In the eighth inning, Steve Karsay was on the mound for Atlanta and the Mets were down by one run. Mike Piazza was due up soon, and I was telling myself if they just get a runner on, Mike will hit a home run. He just will. When a runner got on and Piazza strolled to the plate, he smashed a homer. It was surreal, something that couldn’t be scripted: one of New York’s most adored athletes hitting a home run that brought a city back to life. I went crazy, and so did Shea Stadium. That moment made me realize just how important sports are to help people escape the sometimes horrifying realities of life.
Rajaan Bennett’s murder
I had just gotten out of a history class at Vanderbilt University at about noon when I went back to my dorm and checked my Facebook like I almost always do. Most of the stuff in my news feed was unimportant, but a friend of mine on the Vanderbilt football team had a status update that said “RIP Rajaan Bennett.” I knew that Bennett was the prized recruit of our incoming freshman football class, and the best recruit we’d ever landed in our history. He was a 4-star running back from Georgia who had just signed his letter of intent a little over two weeks before. I immediately began thinking “What the hell?” Then I learned that the night before, he had been murdered by his mother’s ex-boyfriend. I was dumbfounded, and emotionally jarred.
Here was a kid whose father died when he was in sixth grade, after which he became the man of the house, helping look after his three younger siblings. He became a star running back and student, and was headed to Vanderbilt. This kid exemplified everything you would want someone to be. He was a good kid who had a chance to really change his life at Vanderbilt, and he was so close … so close to getting there. Then it was all taken away. The police say Bennett sacrificed himself for the sake of his family and ultimately he was shot.
I didn’t know how to take this all in, but I zoned out in my next class just trying to comprehend what had happened. I never met the kid and maybe never would have, but just seeing someone who was going to be at my school, representing my university proudly every Saturday on the football field and the rest of the time in the classroom was devastating. Vandy is a great community, and we had lost a member before he even had a chance to become a part of our school. That just hit me where it hurts the most: my heart.