Legacies in the sports world

Dan Armelli

Last week, the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez shook the sports world.

Over the last seven-plus days, if we didn’t already know before, we learned what Fernandez was all about; He was a phenomenal baseball talent who brought a lot of spirit to the game.

Fernandez was the combination of youth, liveliness and talent every athlete should be striving to reach. We looked at a player like him and subconsciously thought this guy was invincible; he was a guy of high emotions and celebrity status, making a lot of money in a high-stakes professional game.

The standard path for a guy like Fernandez is to have a successful career for 10 to 15 years — with many accolades included — retire and fade away as a successful coach, broadcaster or analyst. For him to be gone just four years into his major league career is unfathomable, until it actually happens.

Unfortunately, this happens far too often in sports.

As a Broncos fan, I’ve seen three players die during their playing career: once during the season, all in different but ultimately tragic ways.

On Jan. 1, 2007, cornerback Darrent Williams, 24, was shot in a drive-by shooting just hours after a season-ending loss. Over a month later, running back Damien Nash, also 24, collapsed and died after a charity basketball game. Three years later during the 2010 season, wide receiver Kenny McKinley, 23, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

It’s hard to make sense of the dynamic at play when an athlete that’s on your favorite team, or even a player you follow closely, dies. For me, I obviously felt a great deal of sadness in all these instances, even though I never even met these people.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes sports beautiful and a bit frightening at the same time. We let ourselves get attached to these players just through watching them play and talk during interviews. With social media, the connection is stronger than ever.

Though Fernandez had more star power than Williams, Fernandez’s death really took me back to 2007 — every player death does, really — as Williams’ passing was the first time I remember experiencing something like that.

No life is worth more than another. But it just feels different, not necessarily sadder, given guys like Fernandez and Williams are pounded into my head more often because of the hype and talent that came with them.

The death of Fernandez makes our attachment to sports seem cheap: it isn’t. Fernandez’s life is a reminder of the great aspects of sports and life in general.

Dan Armelli is a columnist, contact him at [email protected]