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From the Sidelines

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 27, 1998

ATHLETES OFTEN ALL TOO HUMAN

Death does not have an offseason. It doesn’t care what sport you play orwhat color uniform you wear or whether you are young or old, male or female. It doesn’t notice whether you are a champion or an also-ran, arookie or a veteran, a millionaire superstar or benchwarmer.

One minute Pete Maravich is doing what he loved to do, playing basketball, and telling friends he had never felt better. The next he was on the ground,taken by a heart ailment that had stayed hidden all his life.

Hank Gathers was on top of the world in 1990, coming off a season in which he led the nation in scoring and rebounding. Then came that fatefulday when he collapsed on the court, a rising star that burned out much too quickly.

A. Bartlett Giamatti was in the process of making baseball magical againin 1989 with his love of the game. A heart attack would take him from usduring the midst of the pennant race, baseball’s most magical time.

The list of sports figures who have been taken much too quickly goes on and on. Unfortunately, as events of this past week have shown, that listwill continue to grow.

Driving home from the West St. John-St. Charles Catholic game lastThursday, I was listening to Buddy Diliberto’s show on WWL when the news from Baton Rouge came in – LSU football player Naeshall Menard found dead from an apparent suicide.

The LSU Tigers were in the midst of preparing for the 1998 season, one in which they have been predicted to challenge for the SEC and national championships. Now, they were in mourning for one of their own. We will probably never know what made Menard take his own life. Just afew short months ago, he was celebrating the Tigers’ victory over No. 1Florida in Tiger Stadium. Now, he is gone, another young athlete gonebefore his time.

Athletes today are under a tremendous amount of pressure. More and morepeople today seem to live vicariously through favorite their sports teams and athletes, criticizing them if they fail to live up to their expectations.

It often starts at the youngest level with some parents and coaches going overboard for success.

The money involved in athletics makes it worse with many athletes feeling they have to prove they are worth the money. If they fail tosucceed, they feel that they have let down not only themselves, but their fans and their programs.

What they don’t often understand is that no game, no play is worth losing the ultimate game – the game of life. Losses on the playing field can beovercome. A loss of life cannot.The loss of a young athlete always seems to make us take pause because we often look at them as having a sense of immortality. Unfortunately, we forget they too are often all too human.

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