By Ross Hickenbottom, Sports Editor
On Sunday, the 25th of September, I received two ESPN notifications on my phone of deaths
in the sports world; Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez and legendary golf icon, Arnold Palmer. Two in one day is bad enough, but in 2016 alone there have been over 30 “notable” deaths to accompany these tragic losses. Icons lost in 2016 such as Muhammad Ali, Dave Mirra, Gordie Howe, Pearl Washington, Pat Summitt, Buddy Ryan, Dennis Green, John Saunders and Kimbo Slice impacted their respective sports in ways someone like me could only dream to do.
I’d call myself a lover of anything and everything sports, and I have been for as long as I can remember. My very first sports loss I experienced as a fan was on February 18, 2001. The death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. My family, especially my father and late grandfather loved to watch the “Intimidator” race, and succeed while doing so. This love rubbed off on me and developed me into a die-hard “#3” fan, and at the age of 7, his death devastated me. I couldn’t believe it. How could someone so untouchable and godly on the track be so vulnerable?
The fact that these men and women served as such iconic and influential individuals towards the evolution of not only their sports, but social issues like racial barriers, gender equality and religious freedom makes their deaths that much harder to cope, but also makes their legacies left behind that much greater to remember.
Elite human beings, including the names I previously listed, took it upon themselves to improve the culture and competitiveness of their game. Every single day of their professional lives, and the days it took them to become profession- als, were dedicated to “the cause.” Whether it was to become an 8-time NCAA Champion like Pat Summitt, or to become a Gold Medalist boxer like Muhammad Ali, they laid it all on the line for one broad and everlasting asset in their lives; sports. Sports have contributed so many life lessons and opportunities to my life alone, and I’m sure any athlete can say the same.
The last thing I want to do is undermine or overshadow the tragic losses of anyone else lost in the year 2016, or any year at that. Instead, I wish to shine a light on the toll the world takes when someone belonging to simple as a sports franchise is lost. It goes far beyond athletics. They could’ve stopped at becoming famous for their success in sports, yet these fallen titans took it several steps beyond that by using their success on the field of play to further their influence into aspects of life they cared so dearly for. We’ve all seen or possibly even reaped from the actions and commitments of these worldly figures, and I feel that part of my responsibility as a journalist and sports fan is to help revive their legacies and reflect on their impacts.
2016 has been a year to remember in sports, from celebration to lamentation.