Tag Archive | Death

Aaron Hernandez: Tragically Wasted Talent

On October 21, 2012, I went to Gillette Stadium for my first ever Patriots game, and first ever NFL game. It was awesome! The tailgating scene was impressive, the crowd was excellent, and the game was outstanding. The Pats played the Jets. They trailed their long time rivals by three late in the game before Tom Brady drove the team into field goal range, Gostowski kicked the equalizer, and the Patriots won in overtime on another Gostowski field goal and Rob Ninkovich sacking Mark Sanchez, forcing a fumble, and recovering it in the same play. I enjoyed the day. Today though, I’m not thinking of that excellent game. 

Before the game, I bought my first Patriots shirt. I wanted a little different name on my shirt and I wanted to show a little Connecticut love. So I bought an Aaron Hernandez shirt. He is from Bristol, CT. Then June 26 of the following year arrived and I regretted my decision. He was arrested that day for the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. When that happened, I watched in shock as one of the best players in football was taken away in handcuffs. I didn’t think he would’ve done it. I then looked into Hernandez’s history and the case itself; I found plenty of reason to be skeptical of Hernandez’s claim of innocence. I also was saddened watching this talent get completely wasted. 

He grew up in Bristol, CT, and was one of the best high school tight ends in the country. He originally committed to the University of Connecticut to play with his brother, DJ. He changed his mind and went to the University of Florida instead. Under coach Urban Meyer, Hernandez developed into one of the best collegiate tight ends of the decade. He starred on one of the best college teams ever assembled. He caught passes from Tim Tebow, blocked alongside Mike and Maurkice Pouncy, was flanked by Percy Hardin and Riley Cooper for receiving work, and was backed up by Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins on the defensive side. Yet his time in Gainesville is known more for his legal issues. 

Hernandez failed multiple drug tests and gained the reputation for being a guy who’d skirt the rules for a little enjoyment. However, there were two other major episodes that color him poorly. In April of 2007, Hernandez was in Gainesville and went out to a bar. He was 17 years old, consumed two alcoholic drinks, and refused to pay the bill. He was escorted up out by an employee, and Hernandez punched him so hard he ruptured the employee’s eardrum. He was arrested and charged with a felony battery charge. The matter was settled out of court with a differed prosecution agreement. Later that year, in September, Justin Glass and Corey Smith were injured when they were shot at on a street corner after just leaving a night club. Their friend Randall Carson, who was in the car and not injured, claimed that the shooter was a Hawaiian or Hispanic man with a large build and many tattoos. Hernandez invoked his right for counsel on the issue and was never charged. 

While he wasn’t hit for either of these incidents, Hernandez gained a reputation as a supremely gifted player but with a checkered past. If any organization could handle him, it probably would be a well run one like the Patriots. New England drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, two rounds after the team picked Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. The team had the best tight end tandem in the league and rode their two acquisitions to a 39-9 record over the next three seasons and a trip to Super Bowl 46. Hernandez became the most dependable receiver on the Patriots roster with Gronk’s injuries and Wes Welker’s ability to drop major passes. 

Unfortunately for him, the Patriots, and many others, things took a horrible turn for the worst. In July 2012, Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado were killed in the South End of Boston. Hernandez was indicted on these murders in 2014. He was acquitted of these on April 14th of this year. But even that is not the most damning story against Hernandez. 

On June 17th, 2013, Boston Bandit’s semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd was out at a night club and crossed Hernandez. Lloyd was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of Hernandez’s fiancee at the time. Whatever he said or did, it meant the end for him. Hernandez unloaded ten bullets into Lloyd, killing him. His body was discovered the next day and an investigation began. On June 26th, Hernandez was arrested on a count of first degree murder, one count of carrying a firearm without a license, two counts of possessing a large-capacity firearm and two counts of possessing a firearm without a firearm identification card. 

The Patriots released him from his contract with the team and owner Robert Kraft was stunned. He admitted that Hernandez had been a model Patriot, arriving early for work, practicing long and hard, building a strong repor with Tom Brady, and getting on Bil Belichek’s good side. Hernandez could diagram plays on a whiteboard as well as anyone and was a phenomenal football player and mind. He seemed to be exactly the perfect Patriot. But when he left the building, Hernandez refused to give up the dangerous life of the streets. He found some pleasure in the drugs, gang life, and was able to hide that under the veneer of playing for the most succesful NFL organization of the day. I went from a fan of his and owning his shirt to getting rid of it and turning the Patriots logo on the front of it into a part of a quilt I still own. I wasn’t alone in my removal of Hernandez kit. All Patriots fans did similarly to me. 

After a long trial, Hernandez was found guilty of first degree murder on April 15, 2015. Massachusetts has removed the death penalty from its potential sentences, so Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was acquitted of the double murder charges in South Boston only five days ago. But apparently Hernandez did not believe it worthwhile to continue his life. In the early hours of this morning, April 19th, Hernandez was found in his prison cell, dead. He had hung himself using his cell’s window and his bedsheets. How depressingly appropriate that the Patriots visited the White House today in honor of their Super Bowl win this year. 

Everything about the story of Aaron Hernandez is sad. He came from a rough background, showed remarkable athletic talent, stayed on the streets in his mind, and lost his position as a reliable pass catcher for the best quarterback in the history of football because he was accustomed to gangster life. Hernandez is the most tragically wasted athletic talent of my lifetime. We saw what he could do and how he could contribute to a high level football team. We also saw how far into depravity a human being can fall. Lloyd was brutally killed over a meaningless dispute that stil remains murky to passersby. The brutal murder was capped with the most depressing way for someone to die: suicide. No one can condone or protect Hernandez for his actions. But any jokes about him committing suicide are unnecessary and crude. No one deserves that fate. 

It is a depressingly appropriate ending to the most tragic sports story of my lifetime. I can only pray that some good comes of it for someone who knows the story and decides that the street life is not worth it. 


Craig Sager: Model of Faith, Consistency, and Broadcasting Work

On April 20, 2014, the San Antonio Spurs faced the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It was a close, tense, exciting game between two tense rivals with recent history and championship pedigree. The Spurs won 90-85 behind Tim Duncan’s classic 27 point performance. And all of that takes a back seat to something almost mundane that happened between the third and fourth quarters of the game. Craig Sager Jr. interviewed Gregg Popovich for TNT’s broadcast of the game. Popovich is famous for giving brief, one word answers and curt responses that scream of contempt to the reporters asking these questions. He has no time, he’s got a game to win and a team to coach! Except for April 20th. On that night, he took his time to answer the questions posed to him and took the time to praise Craig Sager Jr. for the job he did, but expressed disappointment in Sager’s father not asking him the questions. 

Senior was at that time being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. He needed a bone marrow transplant, and got it from his son; the same some who interviewed Popovich. Sager had never missed so much as a TNT regular season game between two horrendous teams since joining the Turner sports crew in 1981. But he missed the entire 2014 playoffs and a major personality was missing. The playoffs went on and entertained millions while Craig recovered and became a model of how to live honorably and enthusiastically while recovering from serious disease. 

On March 5th, 2015, Sager returned to the sidelines to work the TNT broadcast of a game between the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center. It made sense. Sager grew up in Batavia, Illinois, only an hour and a half west of the Windy City. He loved the Cubs and was a diehard Chicagoan. He got to cover an exciting game between two excellent teams in his home town. How perfect

Then on June 16th, 2016, TNT loaned Sager to ESPN to work his first ever NBA finals. The man once described by George Brett as a “one man crew” when he worked in Kansas City had reached the pinnacle of the sport he became synonymous with. He was holding a different logo on the microphone than he had since the 80’s, but LeBron James still hugged him in the middle of the game while being interviewed and asked him how it took so long to get him to that stage. Craig responded by brushing it off and doing his job. How perfect. 

He did and lived all of this while being in and out of the hospital for follow up treatments after his first remission and, tragically, his cancer’s return. He needed three bone marrow transplants to keep going, something that hadn’t been done by many before. He would go to Houston to get chemotherapy, hop on a plane to go work a game, then fly right back to continue treatment until he was physically able and needed to work again. Truth was, he was always needed. Popovich needed a colorful character to make him look even more stoic than he already was, and Kevin Garnett needed another bright character to play off of to make his time more fun for all. He just wasn’t able to do it forever. 

Yesterday, Craig Sager finally succumbed to the leukemia that had been eating away at him. It has resurfaced in March, before his first NBA Finals game, and before he was awarded the Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPY’s. He remained a model of energy, passion and zest for life, and going to work despite all possible setbacks. 

I came to know Sager as the guy who wore the funny suits while telling you interesting facts about the game that was happening. It was an eyesore to see some of his suits, but he was a remarkable figure of consistency and entertainment on the sidelines. Everyone knew him, loved him, enjoyed making fun of his suits, and were inspired by him. No one could pull off his look, and even fewer could make the broadcast so entertaining and make it look so easy. 

Sager is a model for how all young, aspiring broadcasters, myself included, should carry themselves. I will take inspiration from his example and be sad about the loss in the NBA community. Many will try and pull off Sager’s style, but no one will make it work. No one will wear those suits well again. No one will make it look so easy while looking so outlandish. And no one will replace the giant shoes that Sager is leaving behind. An institution is gone from the game, but the memories he gave live in and will entertain forever. May God welcome Craig Sager in heaven and comfort his family. Lord knows they need it today. 

Gordie Howe: Mr. Hockey

Hockey is not my favorite sport. I do appreciate how brutal the sport is, how tough the players are, and have excellent experiences involving the sport, including calling the Beanpot, rooting for BU as a fan, and a childhood of Hartford Wolf Pack games. I also appreciate the stories and myths of the ice, like I do for all sports. So when I heard that Gordie Howe died on Friday, I couldn’t help but be sad, as the toughest and most mythical player in hockey’s long history has finally passed on.

Of all the players to play the survival game called hockey, no one captured the balance of physicality and skill the way Gordie Howe did. From 1946 until 1971 with the Detroit Red Wings, and then from 1973 until 1980 in the World Hockey Association, Gordie Howe wrote a story that defied the odds and saw him play a grand total of 32 professional hockey seasons. He set records for scoring and career longevity and become the standard for hockey toughness.

That toughness came from his home town and upbringing. Howe was one of nine children; born in a farm house in Floral, Saskatchewan, a remote part of an obscure state who’s name is the definition of the middle of scenic nowhere to non natives. He moved out to Saskatoon when he was nine days old, and they lived there through the worst of the Great Depression. When he was old enough, he spent his summers working construction with his father. He started playing hockey at 8 years old, and showed a natural talent for the national sport of Canada. He also showed disinterest in school. He quit school at 16 years old and joined his father as a construction worker, while continuing to play hockey in the local leagues. He eventually got a tryout with the New York Rangers, and the Rangers offered him a contract. But Howe would have to go to Notre Dame, a school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, that was known for churning out good hockey players. Howe did not feel comfortable going there and declined the contract. He returned home to play with his friends and stayed for a year.

In 1944, he was noticed by the Detroit Red Wings organization. He signed on and played with the Red Wings minor league team, and was called up in 1946. He played his first two seasons wearing number 17, and was effective but not great. He did not take his biggest strides towards hockey immortality until 1948, when he changed his number to 9. He gained a reputation as a skilled scorer and a man quick to throw down his gloves and fight. There is an occurrence in hockey known as a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”, which is when a player scores a goal, records an assist, and gets in a fight. He fought so much his rookie year that his coach, Jack Adams, asked him “I know you can fight. Now can you show me you can play hockey?” Howe showed that he could play better than anyone who had taken the ice to that point. He led the Red Wings to four Stanley Cups in the 50’s and wrote the NHL record book.  He would set a record for scoring 20 or more goals every season from 1949 until 1971, became the first player to score 90 points in a season, and then 100 points in a season. He won the Hart Trophey (League MVP) 6 times, and along with Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, he became the standard bearer for the NHL.


He retired in 1971 as the leading goal scorer in the history of the NHL, but mostly capable of playing. He had bad wrists and was forced to retire before he was ready to do so. The amazing thing was that he was able to keep playing after he turned 42, when mere hockey mortals would have to retire. Instead, with the help of a wrist surgery and fueled by disputes with the front office of the Red Wings, Howe returned to the ice in 1973, playing in the World Hockey League, a competitor to the National Hockey League. He joined the Houston Aeros, because his sons were playing there. He led the Aeros to consecutive championships in 1974 and 75. After his time in Houston ended, the epilogue arrived. He went with his sons to the New England Whalers, later the Hartford Whalers, and played until he was 51 years old. In his last season in Hartford, he scored 15 goals and collected 26 assists for 41 points in a career high 80 games played that season.


Gordie Howe did things on the ice with skill and strength that no one else ever could. Wayne Gretzky was not the complete package that Howe was. Bobby Orr was not the physical marvel that Howe was. No one has or will ever match the physical prowess and scoring skills of Gordie Howe, and no one will ever match the influence on the sport that Howe had. Wayne Gretzky has always said that Howe is the greatest hockey player ever, and he is correct. Gretzky holds all of Howe’s former scoring records, and holds scoring records that will never be topped. But Howe did it for much longer and never showed the physical decline that Gretzky showed. They won the same number of Stanley Cups, four each, and they were at least comparable in the influence they could have on the game. I’d give Howe a very slight edge as the greatest total Hockey player ever, and that is only by a tiny, TINY margin.

Howe also lived for a long time after his playing career ended. He finally retired for good in 1980, and lived a long and fruitful life afterward. He worked for charities to counter degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s after his wife’s death in 2009. He was named to the Order of Canada, and was a living monument to the sport of hockey after his career ended. Unfortunately, he suffered from dementia towards the end of his life and had to live with his children in rotation. He suffered a bad stroke in 2014. He did recover and managed to see some good months with his grand children after. Unfortunately, even the toughest ones must go too. While staying with his son Murray, a radiologist in Toledo, OH, the great Howe couldn’t go any further. He died at his son’s home. No cause has officially been listed for his death, but as of now, what he and his family need are our prayers and respect.

Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player of all time. Unfortunately his time finally came to an end after 88 years of living here on earth. May God welcome him with open arms.

BOOKS Gordie Howe 20141010

Gordie Howe is shown a a recent handout photo from the new book “Mr. Hockey.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Paul Horton/Neue Studios MANDITORY CREDIT: Paul Horton/Neue Studios

Muhammad Ali: Truly The Greatest Ever

I woke up very early in the morning to find my television still on and tuned to SportsCenter. I pulled up my iPad sitting on the floor next to my couch and saw the news update that Muhammad Ali had died. I sat up immediately and listened to the reactions and coverage of his passing. I listened for a long time as story after story came in about what Ali had done for the black community, the boxing world, the athletic world at large, and the United States in one of the more tumultuous times in the nation’s history. I heard all these stories and soaked them all in, knowing many of his stories but not knowing the full weight of his time and tales. 

 I knew Ali as one of the most controversial public figures in the middle of the 20th century and as one of the greatest athletes in any sport. Both of those descriptions are true, and ultimately, Ali will mean different things to people of different walks of life. My father was six years old when he upset Sonny Liston in 1964, and my father had met my mother only a few months before Ali fought his last bout in Nassau in the Bahamas in December 1981. I wasn’t alive or fully aware enough to see any of his most famous moments. Yet even I know about the myths and stories of Ali. He must’ve done something incredible for someone who wasn’t born until thirteen years after his last fight to know and respect his accomplishments. 

His life was a result of the racism and poverty he saw and endured in his formative years in Louisville, Kentucky. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942, he grew up in the Jim Crowe south, facing direct racism and adversity from his youth. One specific incident led him to the sport where he would make his name. At twelve years old, young Cassius Clay’s bike was stolen at the annual convention of the Louisville Service Club. Clay approached Joe Elsby Martin, a police officer and local boxing coach. Clay fumed, saying that he wanted to “whup the thief”. Martin responded by asking “Do you know how to fight?” Clay answered “No, but I’d fight anyway.” Martin responded by saying “Why don’t you learn something about fighting before you go and make any hasty challenges.” Martin was Clay’s first boxing coach, and was with him through his career as an amateur boxer, culminating in his gold medal performance at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was celebrated as the greatest young boxer of the day in Times Square before returning home to a heroes welcome that masked a still virulently racist culture in Louisville. He was fueled by a desire to make changes to a world he saw as flawed. 

Clay turned pro after his Olympic victory. He won his first 19 bouts before taking his first shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the World. He met Sonny Liston for the title in the ring in Miami Beach, Fla., and was a heavy underdog to the most intimidating force in the sport back then. Clay fearlessly promoted the fight and his skills. Most boxers would let their managers and crew do the talking for them. And while Clay’s crew could do the talking; Bundini Brown came up with the famous phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, Clay went vocal and talked trash to Liston. He declared himself to the task. He fought Liston boldly, surviving a round where he could hardly see because of irritation in his eye, and won by technical knockout when Liston failed to answer the bell in the seventh round. After the fight, Clay had his famous claim “I shook up the world!!!” This put Clay on the map, and he was just getting started. 

The controversies began for Clay when he announced his conversion to Islam and affiliation with the Nation of Islam. He changed his name from, as he termed it, his “slave name” of Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. After a rematch with Liston in Lewiston, Maine, Ali became more vocal about his opponents, calling Floyd Patterson an “Uncle Tom” before beating him in a twelve round technical knockout. He remained this vocal for the remainder of his career. He then topped himself in terms of controversy when he announced his status as a “Concientious Objector” to the Vietnam War due to his religious convictions. He was convicted as a draft dodger and was suspended from boxing in 1967. This is the point where Ali became a divisive figure in the United States. He was an incredible athlete, but was viewed as unpatriotic by millions of Americans. Ultimately, I understand why he felt that way, but I can’t help but think that there had to have been a better way to express that sentiment. He loudly proclaimed that “The Viet Cong ain’t ever called me no n!*#^~>.” He acted on his experience and refused to fight for a country he viewed as hypocritical and not what he wanted to put his energy towards. I understand his rationale behind his actions, and must respect the reasons he refused to fight. I don’t approve of what he did to express that sentiment, but I will respect his reasons. 

Ali’s boxing suspension was lifted in 1970. Ali won a few fights before signing on to face the most fearsome fighter of the time, Joe Frazier. The fight went the full 15 rounds and generated a buzz in Madison Square Garden that has rarely been felt at a sporting event. The “Fight of the Century” on March 8, 1971 was a unanimous decision that went to Frazier and Ali was viewed as being done. He lost to Ken Norton in 1973, and while recovering from a broken jaw from that fight, he plotted his return to the Heavyweight Championship. Ali got another shot at Frazier and took him down in a twelve round unanimous decision in Madison Square Garden. George Foreman who had also defeated Joe Fraizer, with Howard Cosell along to provide the most famous call in boxing history and maybe the most famous call in all of sports, was the man holding the title that Ali wanted. Ali wanted to fight Foreman, and got his wish. 

The two met in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), for the “Rumble in the Jungle”. Foreman hit Ali with punches that “could bring down the walls of a city.” Ali responded by asking Foreman “Is that all you’ve got George?” George Foreman didn’t have anymore. Ali won, created the Rope-a-Dope, and reclaimed the Heavyweight Championship of the World. There was still one last great triumph in Ali’s boxing career. Ali and Frazier got together for the “Thrilla in Manilla”, the third and final round of the most brutal personal rivalry in the middle of the twentieth century. Ali took every punch, using the “Rope-a-dope” style of fighting utilized against Foreman. He walked away triumphant, winning when Frazier failed to answer the bell in the 15th and final round. It was his final triumph in the ring. Ali had a few misplaced fights at the end of his career, including three losses in his last four fights. After he lost to Trevor Berbick in 1981, he finally retired with a record of 56 wins, 5 losses, 37 wins by knockout, and only one loss by knockout. Ali broke so many standards and normal ideas about how to box, and was the greatest boxer of all time. 

Stade Tata-Raphaël, then Stade du 20 Mai (20 May Stadium) was the place of the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Foreman and Ali

After stepping outside the ropes, Ali hit serious health concerns and transcended the sports world. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984, and lost his famous ability to talk and proclaim his skill and influence. That’s how I came to know Ali originally, through his words. I know he’s the greatest boxer, but I’ve always loved listening to Muhammad Ali’s quotes and thoughts. Here are a few of his greatest quotes for your appreciation. 

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I was really the greatest.”

“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

When talking to the press about the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali said,  “I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.” 

His words are touching. And these are only a few of his quotes. I came to know him as a man with a gift of gab, not with a gift of jab. Parkinson’s made his life harder and harder to lead for many years. He continued to make public appearances though. He even had two more famous moments in the spotlight. One was when he lit the torch for the opening of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

 The second was when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by George W. Bush, the highest award that can be given to an American citizen. The rest of his life, he was a symbol of his time and a person who many made it a mission to meet, because he had inspired them so much for so many years. 

Muhammad Ali died this morning on the East Coast, last night in Scottsdale, his home for the last years of his life. His legacy is complex, but full and incredible. He was completely human, being married four times, having multiple affairs, putting himself in more dangerous positions to get hurt, and probably being too arrogant at times. But Ali was such a legendary athlete and such an important figure that he almost transcends the notion of being a regular human being. In terms of influential athletes in the twentieth century, Ali is up with Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Michael Jordan as the greatest on that list. His influence will be felt for years after his death. 

May God welcome him with open arms. 

American Sniper: Oh my God… What a movie!

Last night I saw American Sniper with some friends. When the movie ended, we sat in an emotionally stunned state. We could not get over just how beautiful the film was.

First, to review the qualities as a movie. The acting was superb. Especially by the leading man and lady, Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. They played their roles perfectly, and made me marvel at the capacity for human affection between two people, especially with the back stories that they have. The effects and graphics were good, other than one scene when the soldiers were in a sandstorm, but other than that, the technical pieces of the movie were all high quality.

American Sniper did something more than just be entertained. It made me laugh, cry, and truly feel the emotions of the characters. I felt the emptiness of Taya Kyle when her husband wasn’t really there, the emotionless disconnection of Chris Kyle from his family, the fear of death inherent in war, and the desire for true human connection and protection. Chris Kyle’s story is terrifying, beautiful, and enlightening. It reminds us that even the best soldiers can have a heart and care about others. It shows the beauty of the human soul, and the ugliness of when people are pushed by radical ideologies and fear to their breaking point. That’s why American Sniper is the greatest war movie created. I hope that everyone gets to see it. It’s a beautiful and stunning film that should win best picture and should net Bradley Cooper an Academy Award. I’ll remember this movie and keep reminding myself of the sacrifices made by American soldiers for our freedom. And I’ll be sure to hold to the things and people I love more than I did before.