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Death of a young athlete

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by fishhack2009, Jan 28, 2010.

  1. fishhack2009

    fishhack2009 Active Member

    Good evening everyone...

    In the midst of all the national attention given lately to undiagnosed heart conditions causing the death of professional athletes, here in our small Southern community, we apparently have a case of our own to add to the mix.

    Last night, a 15-year-old J.V. basketball player, after scoring 14 points in a game, apparently went home, suffered a heart attack, and died.

    We found out during the day and had enough time to put together a brief story for tomorrow, incorporating scant obituary information, and getting some reax from the AD and a few coaches.

    After a few years chasing police cars, fire trucks and ambulances early in my career, I jumped at the chance to move to the sports department, so I wouldn't have to write about death any more.

    Well, we all know how that goes: Death is a part of life, so over the years, there have been stories about a football coach bravely battling cancer before succumbing; a baseball coach who, after winning a high school game and making an appointment with an interview with me for the next day, went home and hanged himself; a story about an vibrant young AD, in the prime of his life, struck and killed while out on his bicycle.

    And now this story tonight. I just find it hard to comprehend that this smiling, mischievous young man, who I watched scramble with reckless abandon on the floor for loose balls, slam home a crowd-pleasing dunk, and chest-bump his teammates excitedly during the course of the game, was dead less than an hour later.

    We'll do some follow-ups over the next few days, as time and circumstances allow, because this kid was very popular, a very nice kid, and by all accounts, the sky was the limit for him on the court.

    99 days out of 100, I love this job.

    Count tonight as one of the days I don't.

  2. Blitz

    Blitz Active Member

    It's like the recent NFL death.
    The player was found to have an enlarged heart.
    You just never know about health and the human body.
  3. albert77

    albert77 Well-Known Member

    I've had several of these, fish, and they're always the toughest stories you can do.

    I remember a couple of years ago interviewing a girl on a team that had just been eliminated from the playoffs in basketball. She was a junior and was going to be their best returning player. She was talking about how much she was looking forward to being that team's leader. A month later she was killed in a car crash.

    I also had to chronicle a star running back's battle with leukemia, which he lost. That was like a slow-motion train wreck, because I knew how it was going to end and there wasn't anything anyone could do about it.

    The only silver lining is that these kind of stories don't come along nearly as often as they would if you were still doing cops.
  4. jambalaya

    jambalaya Member

    One of the more challenging assignments I ever had was a similar event. Fifteen-year-old high school football player collapsed and died at practice. Heart problem, turns out.

    In his still messy room, the way he left it, I interviewed mom and sister to get his personal side; that moment still haunts me. His Spongebob pj's were on the floor. You'd be amazed. This would seem like the worst time to talk to family but you find those left behind are very willing to talk up their lost loved one. Any newcomers out there, remember that. It's hard but your story will be miles better.

    To this day it remains one of the more memorable times in my career, even though it impacted so few people. The young man was certainly not insignificant to those he knew while alive.
  5. exmediahack

    exmediahack Well-Known Member

    I have created a reputation, in my little market, as a person who can be trusted to bring out stories in these situations.

    Just make it a priority to research the deceased kid as much as possible before you get there. Learn about his best showings...and teams he may have struggled with.

    Five years ago, my LAST night as a TV sports guy, there was an all-star high school game in town. A kid got a little queasy at halftime. He was dead five minutes later. A tough and awful story to work through but one where the parents and coaches were unbelievably gracious in how they answered the questions.

    Just treat people the way you'd like to be treated.
  6. fishhack2009

    fishhack2009 Active Member

    Oh, exactly. I tell myself that all the time.

    In my list of death-related stories I've done since moving to the toy department, I left out the 2007 story on four ex-wrestlers/football players who were involved in a wreck on their way to a fun spring break in Florida. A tire separated from a semi, went airborne, and crashed through their windshield, killing the two in front instantly. They'd just changed drivers at a rest area, and I ended up interviewing the two survivors ... who I knew well from their high school days. They were wracked with survivors' guilt.

    These stories don't come along often, true. But they still suck.
  7. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    Had five of those so far I've had to write about, four of which were college athletes with undiagnosed heart ailments. One was a female track athlete, one was a male basketball player, one was a football player playing a pickup basketball game. Bam. Dead.

    A fourth was a juco basketball player from an away school who dropped dead on the court while Local JC was on the road. Got to visit with the locals on that one.

    The fifth was a high schooler killed in a car crash, who was a second-stringer from a fringe school. Didn't make it any easier.

    On a historical tip, I recently did the anniversary of the death of a promising high schooler on the verge of college stardom. That was by far the toughest story I ever did — talking to his parents, his coach, family friends and his teammates. But I got through it and I'm glad I did because I think it was a positive story in the end.
  8. writingump

    writingump Member

    I covered a high school football game in Knoxville in August where a team captain collapsed on the field and died a few hours later. Saddest thing I've ever done, because there's really no how-to manual for that kind of situation. The team's trainer was a great source for quotes. Few others wanted to talk and honestly, I couldn't blame them. There's being a journalist and there's being a human and on that night, I leaned more towards the latter.
  9. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    I'm the death guy at my paper. I don't know how that came to me, but I'm able to talk to the family and write a good story. As for a kid dying, almost had am athlete die two weeks ago in class. His heart stopped for almost 20 minutes.
  10. JennaLaine

    JennaLaine Member

    That just breaks my heart. I chose to cover sports because, aside from my passion for athletics, I just can't bear to talk about plane crashes and accidents. I'm too much of an emotional person. Sports is a great fit until something like that happens. I cried when I had to write a story on Gaines Adams. And then a few years ago, a friend of mine in college at USF collapsed during an off-season workout. I was interning at a news station at the time and had to cover it. It was really hard because he was a friend of mine. But, the way I look at it is, there's a reason you're in the position you're in - because you are an incredible storyteller. That's what journalism is all about. It's our job to tell the story, to tell people who this person was. Our job isn't necessarily to glorify the person, but to tell a story that needs to be told, to give that person a final voice.
  11. fishhack2009

    fishhack2009 Active Member

    We did the follow-up story for tomorrow's paper. We spoke to a number of his teammates and coaches and got as nice tribute out of it. Hopefully, the story will be a small ray of light in a dark time for the young man's family, and something they might want to clip and keep in his scrapbook.

    My writer had never done a story like this before and was very skittish about it. I resisted the urge to take over the story, instead just shepherding him through it and letting him find his way. I sat in on his interview with the players, because he asked. I advised him to just let the kids talk and be there to record their answers. He did just fine with the story.

    I hate these stories.... but at least they don't come along as often.
  12. fishhack2009

    fishhack2009 Active Member

    Great post, Jenna. I was in a similar position years ago earlier in my career ... had to write about the death of a co-worker and friend. It was very difficult. But we journalists do have a special gift, and when we use it in the right way, we can affect people's lives for the better. As hard as that was to write, I'm glad I did it, because I was able to give my friend a face and a personality to go with the byline.
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