Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Sports World Death/Meeting Clint Again

In Lou Schuler's blog this morning, I read about about another alcohol-related tragedy involving a professional sports athlete. Here's an excerpt from Lou's blog.

"Late last Saturday night -- Sunday morning, if you want to be precise -- a 29-year-old relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals died in an auto accident. He plowed his rented SUV into a tow truck, which was parked in the left traffic lane, clearing up an earlier accident. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the pitcher, Josh Hancock, had been drinking heavily, according to eyewitnesses, and was on his way to do more drinking with a group of teammates. A restaurant manager had offered to call a cab for him. He'd declined."

This, following in the wake of Bob Barbanes' blog post concerning an intervention he participated in, brings to mind that old saying usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "Youth is wasted on the young."

Now, I'm not one to get sanctimonious about the use of alcohol. The fact is, I was somewhat of a party animal throughout my twenties and thirties. Luckily for me, I was addicted to the bars, taverns, and live music, not so much the alcohol. Still, I willingly gave into that "when in Rome" syndrome when out on the town. I felt, back then, that I needed the social lubrication adult beverages provided.

So, no, you won't see me pointing a pious finger at those who imbibe. Alcohol will likely have a place in our society for generations to come. For all of its potential evils, it's the most accepted recreational drug in our world, and we learned in the U.S. that making it illegal did nothing but make some folks rich. In moderation, it may well protect against heart disease. And, while I sometimes go weeks without touching an alcoholic beverage, I still enjoy downing a glass or two of beer or wine now and then.

But still, I can't help but ponder the costs . . .

One day in the early 90's, I was helping our swamped dispatcher manifest passengers. I was compiling names and weights for a helicopter flight to an offshore oil platform--one of mine, as it turned out--when I saw his name. I hadn't seen Clint in person since junior high school; we went to different high schools. I had seen him on TV, though, playing in the defensive backfield for USC. He would go on to play four seasons for the Minnesota Vikings.

Looking at the sign-in sheet, I expected to see something indicating Clint was an engineer or geologist. When I noted that he worked for the catering company, I assumed that he must have taken a position as a manager, and was taking a day away from his office to visit employees offshore. I looked out over the waiting room and spotted him. He was wearing a catering uniform.

I'd once watched Clint on TV, catching an interception and running it back for a touchdown. Now I was flying him out to an offshore platform to clean living quarters. His boss later told me that Clint's downfall was part of that Same Ol' Story: alcohol, drugs, gambling, and women.

The whole thing hit me surprisingly hard. I'd been in awe of the guy's athletic prowess since the second grade. He was a soft-spoken, gentle giant who we all wanted the best for--he was easy to like.

We landed on the offshore platform, and I watched him walk down the stairway. I remembered watching him dunk a basketball in the eighth grade. I remembered that as a high school freshman, he dominated senior varsity players in both basketball and football. Now he was making beds and doing laundry for a living.

It was not a good feeling.


Algernon said...

This entry touches me. It is such a strong reminder that we don't live for ourselves alone - we don't really know the effect our life is having on another.

Bob Barbanes said...

Hal, I'm conflicted by your post. Did you think he was better than you at some point? He seemed to have been the subject of your adulation when he was a "star," but no more simply because he was a galley hand? Is it that you think he's wasting his "life" when he could still be on t.v. (for whatever that's worth), envied by men and a role model for kids? Or that being a galley hand is undignified work for a guy who had such wonderful other talents?

When I first joined PHI and was flying for Conoco, I learned of a foreman named Gary Puckett. And I thought, "Nahh, couldn't be..." It was. The same guy who in the late 1960's fronted a highly popular pop group called "Gary Puckett and the Union Gap." And I thought, "Man! See how they fall." But then, I knew a whole bunch of other guys who aspired to *be* a foreman...some day.

And didn't Gary "Diff'rent Strokes" Coleman end up being a security guard?

We do what we need to do to get by. At least your Clint is still alive and kicking, not dead like that baseball player.

Hal Johnson said...

Bob, I can see how you might infer that Clint was no longer a subject of my "adulation" because he'd ended up as a galley hand. Actually, though, my admiration continued in a sense, because according to those to worked with him, he never complained and was a joy to be around. What I was trying to imply was the sense of missed opportunity: Clint was making a lot of money, and had the opportunity to set himself up well for the future, but was scuttled by his lifestyle as an NFL player. Of course, you could point out that he did it to himself. True. But then, Clint always had an innocence about him, coupled with an amazing work ethic. (He didn't get where he got through God-given talents alone.) I suspect that when he left USC to become an NFL player, there was sort of a "babe in the woods" thing going on. As a major college player, I suspect he had some guidance in his life. As an NFL player, probably not, from what I've heard and read. So no, I'm not trying to suggest that being a galley hand is such a horrible thing, and I suspect you feel strongly that way, living in the third world as you do. Clint was always just a nice person, and I feel sorry for his loss of what could have been a great opportunity.

Oh yeah, Gary Puckett. I hadn't heard that about him. I wonder if he and Kris Kristofferson ever ran into each other? I hope it didn't prompt Kris to try his own rendition of "Young Girl."

Bob Barbanes said...

Missed opportunity, for sure! We do know that the galley hands union doesn't have a very good retirement plan - in fact, none at all...because there's no galley hands union to begin with. So yeah, that is sad.

We keep thinking/hoping/fantasizing that our retirement will take care of itself or something, or that we'll worry about it "later." Then suddenly you're a 50-ish year old man making beds and doing laundry for minimum wage on an offshore oil platform. Oops!

Gary Puckett did seem obsessed with women, didn't he? (Especially young girls!) That Kristofferson fellow on the other hand seems to have launched a career on the strength of a love-song to some guy named Bobby...(which just happened to have been made famous by a female singer, disguising the true intent of the song, I'm sure).