Monday, November 1, 2010

A week of joy and tragedy keeps all in perspective

Last week was one of those times in my life where I was reminded—again—that getting all wound up about the horrors of The BCS or Dan Snyder or ESPN or even NPR—is perfectly okay as long as all of us (myself included) remember that none of them are life and death issues.

I saw new life up close and personal last week and it was an extraordinary experience as any parent can certainly attest.

One day later I read in detail about the death of a 20-year-old Notre Dame junior and, even as the details continue to trickle out very slowly, remain stunned and shocked by how Declan Sullivan died.

I also learned of the death of a good friend, another needless death that leaves me with a feeling of terrible sadness.

The incomparably good news, of course, was the birth of Jane Blythe Feinstein late on Tuesday night. Men always joke about lucky we are to not have to give birth but it really isn’t a joke. I think I’m a fairly self-aware person and I know for SURE I could not have gone through what my wife Christine went through last Tuesday. Of course, as she so eloquently said on Wednesday morning, “I’d go through it 1,000 more times if this (Jane) was the final result.”

The best line of the brutally long day—16 hours of labor before the c-section—came from Chris’s doctor, Dena Kleinerman, who looked at me when it was becoming apparent a c-section was going to be necessary and said: “You need to go eat something. I’m not saying this because I care about you but because I don’t need you passing out in the delivery room.”

Jane came into the world with a full head of light brown hair—almost exactly like I did. In fact, my father’s first comment when he saw me was, “he needs a haircut.” One of his last comments to me was, “you need a haircut.” Some things really DO never change. Jane arrived kicking her legs and waving her arms. Truly her father’s daughter.

There’s no happier moment in a parent’s life than the birth of a child. I’ve been fortunate enough to have three now and, as with all parents, I fell completely in love with each of my children the instant I first saw them. Which is one of many reasons why I can’t think of Declan Sullivan without thinking about his parents. I can’t even imagine what that phone call was like. I wonder who at Notre Dame made the call and what in the world they said. “I’m terribly sorry, your son is dead because no one thought to get him out of a hydraulic lift in winds gusting to 50 miles per hour?”

I have no desire to pick on Notre Dame right now. I can’t imagine what the players are feeling or how the student body feels. When I was in college a good friend’s girlfriend was murdered and I can remember the entire campus being engulfed in an almost indescribable feeling of grief. I’m sure it is very much like that at Notre Dame this week.

That said, the questions are unavoidable. It is clear from his tweets that Sullivan was aware before he went up on the lift to tape football practice that the winds were frighteningly high. Once he got up there he was, to use his word, ‘terrified,’ clearly beyond belief given the ‘holy ----, holy ----,’ that he repeated in his tweet just a few minutes before he died.

Did Sullivan ask anyone about not going up there in the wind? If he did and someone told him to go up anyway, this is a tragedy that goes beyond being a horrible accident. Even if he didn’t, even if he felt he had to suck it up and go up there, where were the adults? Apparently the scissor-lift is not supposed to be operated in winds over 28 miles per hour. That’s a pretty specific number that one would guess is based on testing. It is pretty clear that this wasn’t a borderline call since there had been serious wind warnings posted throughout the Midwest that day.

There were also reports that the team continued to practice after the accident. When he finally spoke about what happened on Saturday evening after Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa, Coach Brian Kelly said practice had continued—for a while. His explanation was he wanted to keep the players away from the accident and he left assistants in charge while he went to see how badly Sullivan had been hurt. He said when he returned, he called the team to midfield, told them what had occurred and sent them inside.

I’m willing to give Kelly the benefit of the doubt if only because he IS the father of three kids and I’m sure when he got there, he was told right away how serious the situation was. I know enough about good trainers and EMT’s to know that they almost certainly told Kelly that Sullivan wasn’t likely to survive. I can’t imagine ANYONE not being brought up short by something like that. I would feel better if Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick hadn’t gone right away into lawyer mode in making himself the school’s spokesman for the next three days. As far as I know, Tim Collins, the video coordinator at Notre Dame for the past 20 years hasn’t spoken publicly about this yet. No doubt he’s being kept under wraps by Swarbrick and Notre Dame’s lawyers.

Other video coordinators around the country have talked about how respected Collins is within their community. On Saturday, John McGuire, Navy’s long-time video coordinator, who I trust implicitly, said the same thing. “He’s a good guy and a responsible guy,” McGuire said.

He didn’t need to complete the thought for me to wonder if that was so how did Sullivan end up on that scissor-lift? Of course Collins is the only one who can really answer that question. The BEST case scenario for Collins and Notre Dame is that Sullivan just went up there on his own (even though terrified) and no one thought to stop him. That is a pretty awful best case scenario.

There is no best-case scenario for what happened to my friend Bill Shannon. Unless you are part of The New York baseball community or sportswriting fraternity, you probably don’t know Bill. He worked for UPI for years and was also one of the most respected official scorers in baseball, working games at both Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium and then Citi Field. Beyond that, Bill was the classic hale fellow well met. He always had a kind—and often funny word—for everyone and was very good at everything he did.

He was also his 92-year-old mother’s caretaker and lived with her in New Jersey. Bill’s mom had dementia. Last week, she got up early one morning and sat down in a chair and lit a cigarette. Then she apparently forgot about it. Bill, who was upstairs sleeping (he worked most nights) never got out of the house as it burned down. His mom did.

I heard someone on a radio show this morning refer to the Redskins loss in Detroit on Sunday as, “tragic.” I almost drove off the road. Tragedy is Declan Sullivan and Bill Shannon. Pure joy is the birth of your child.


Tim said...

We all seem to forget at times what live is all about, and get caught up in things that don't matter in the long run. Glad you were able to see the light in the joy of a birth as all too often, many times its just the tragedy aspect that jolt needed.

Mr. X said...


Congrats on your new daughter!

Sorry about your friend's death. In a weird way, I hope his mother's dementia is advanced enough that she never realizes that she was the proximate cause.

I'd think Kelly could get a pass in his first season, but if the blame for the scissor lift situation leads back to him, it does not bode well. Hopefully not.

PeteWill said...

John, one of your best posts for all of the right and wrong reasons...

Congrats on baby Jane.

Bo Smolka said...

John -- No greater joy than the birth of a child. Congrats! You and Socci might have to have a day-care wing, or at least some toys, in the booth ...

The Baltimore Sports Guy said...

Where is your sense of fairness in reporting? You are so quick to bash the ACC for it's poor football performances this season but what do you think of two ACC bottom feeders Maryland and Duke beating your beloved Navy Middies this season? Where is the credit given for these "upsets". After all, Navy was ranked ahead of these programs. If ACC football is so bad then what does that say about Navy to lose to these basketball schools? Plus, duke certainly is on par academically with Navy so i guess you can't use that as an excuse. Come on big fella.