My first WTLC post was a tongue-in-cheek piece, exploring the idea that the Thunder are a cursed organization. That joke is less funny in light of the real life blows that have struck the team this season. Botched roster decisions and injured limbs are one thing; tragic car crashes, conspiracy indictments, and murder are quite another.
The news of Dion Waiters' younger brother's death is one of those interruptions in the sports news cycle that puts things into perspective for us as fans, as the cliché goes. As it should. Waiters is one of the most maligned men in the NBA, but even his harshest critics are saddened by his loss, which only adds to a mountain of suffering the young man has already endured.
Life ain't a joke. The Thunder are cursed. The whole world is.
The mind plays gotcha on itself in these moments. You shudder that your last words to a deceased friend were flippant, or even cruel. You re-read your Waiters takedown and hang your head at any lapses of grace. If we're playing the insensitivity game, I'm a repeat offender:
- I've called Dion Waiters a "crisis."
- I've repeated the tired joke that the Thunder's best chances at a title are a Warriors plane crash.
- I've used the #RIP riff to speculate about the waning health and playing time of players.
Typically, the guilt we feel is an overreaction, completely divorced from the tragedy and harmless in the grand scheme of things. It's a form of grief, which in itself is an attempt to reckon with something that is already out of reach.
Americans don't talk a lot about death, and I suspect that aversion infects the way we absorb these tragedies, even as distant onlookers. We're conditioned to dance around death with euphemism at all costs, and the awkward relationship between the living and the dead leads us down complicated and not always worthwhile discussions about the propriety of using violent metaphors to describe something trivial like sports. This is not a call to strain out all somber elements of your speech.
Aside from expressing condolences, I suggest we take these opportunities as more than perspective-inducing reminders. It's better to practice perspective than it is to let perspective hit you every few dozen trips around the sun.
Practicing perspective is more than remembering that it's just a game. Basketball is not just a game. To some folks, like Dion, it can be a life-transforming miracle. To some parents, it's the only thing they have left to talk with their kids about. To some gambling sharks, it's a tool of oppression.
The just a game cliché implies that we should just care less about the sport and go hug our children. Escape into sports for entertainment; don't invest in sports as life-giving sustenance. That's fair enough advice for some, but misguided for most. Watching sports merely as an escape is not the most mature approach. Like it or not, there are serious ethics at stake here, in the way we talk about the game, about players, about coaches, owners, contracts, fans, local and global economies, and on down the line. There is also much joy to be had, and joy is important business.
Basketball is a game, and sports are a thing among other things that we should handle appropriately. Sports are not trivial. Sports are human. Some humans in sports struggle at their job. Some dominate. Some are fighting against travel demands to spend quality time with their family. Some are wasting all that time on their mistress. Some are pretending not to agonize over things written about them on the internet. Some are new fathers, some new widowers.
Enjoying sports is an act of whistling through the graveyard, one way or another. You can settle for escapism, humming your team's song, aloof to the crumbling world around you. I'm inclined to this attitude, but find myself disoriented when the world's madness breaks into the frame.
Or, you can whistle from a place of perspective, aware of the madness just off the court. You can whistle as a conscientious act of rebellion to the death and destruction around you, enjoying something beautiful because the darkness shouldn't get the final word. My faith compels me in this direction, and I hope to arrive there someday.
Practice perspective when watching and discussing human beings. Err toward kindness, not because you don't want to feel bad if your target is struck with tragedy. Be kind because they will be struck with tragedy, no ifs about it. They will suffer. They have suffered. They might be suffering right now, and you just don't know it. Same goes for that moron in the comments section you're arguing with he or she might be in real pain.
Let this kind of unwelcome perspective guide you forward. As you're analyzing players, whining about blown calls, or doing any other fine and good thing that fans of the fun game of basketball get to do, don't lose it.
Prayers for Dion's family.