The tragic helicopter accident on January 26th near Los Angeles that killed nine people, among them NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, was a horrific event that will be forever remembered as a somber day for the sports community and nation as a whole.
Yet, the deaths of Bryant and eight others hold a different level of significance for each and every person in this country and the world individually, whether it be the family members of former Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli or a devoted Lakers fan who lost their childhood idol.
This difference in significance is a fascinating concept. Obviously, if I were to lose a family member suddenly and unexpectedly, I would be heartbroken. Conversely, if I were to learn of a car accident in which a man died whom I had never met, I would certainly feel remorse for the individual and his family, but I would be able to move on from it and go on with my life rather quickly. This is not to say that this hypothetical man’s life was worth any less than my hypothetical family members; on the contrary, in an objective sense, all lives are “worth” the same.
Or are they?
Well, yes. How dare I say any one life is worth any more or less than another? How horrible of a person would dream of suggesting such a thought? I certainly would not; that is not my argument. Instead, I am alluding to the idea that each and every life means something different to each and every person that it impacts.
This is true in regard to sports and is as well relevant at a personal level.
The lives of the nine people who perished on that helicopter were all absolutely “worth” the same, but the death of Kobe and his daughter was far more significant to most because of everything that he represented and stood for. To lose Kobe so suddenly was quite similar to losing a family member; Kobe’s constant presence in the lives of so many was very real, even if he never met a vast majority of those that he touched.
In looking into my own feelings and thoughts, I am part of the minuscule percentage of the population who were more significantly impacted by the death of former Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs than that of Kobe Bryant. My reasoning for this is extremely personal.
I am currently 18-years-old and have had to deal with anxiety that has often been crippling to my livelihood. Most people have hardships in life, and I understand that, as well as the fact that everyone uses different coping mechanisms in order to survive them. For me, the most effective stress reliever IS baseball.
This means that I spend a lot of time watching baseball. On occasion for hours every single night, so naturally, I have come to know a great deal about the players themselves. Broadcasting legend Vin Scully’s trademark strategy was to engage his listeners by telling personal stories about the players present in that particular game, which truly struck a chord with me when I tuned in to Dodger games.
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The fact of the matter was (and still is) that baseball players feel like friends and family to me. The sport itself is my temporary escape from the struggles of reality, and countless sports fans can likely relate to this testament. So, when Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away due to a drug overdose in 2019, it hit me hard. The death of the Miami Marlins’ José Fernández in 2016 affected me in a similar manner, but for whatever reason (I was younger, less mature, perhaps?), the passing of Skaggs impacted me even more so. I felt that I had lost somebody that I knew, even though I had never met him. It felt as if I had lost a member of my family. My baseball family, at least. Baseball is my safe place – it is always something that I can turn to when life is simply too much to handle. In the case of Skaggs, the foundation of a source of my joy was deeply fractured.
What truly led me to break down into tears was the press conference that Skaggs’ Angels teammates gave following his death. To me, Mike Trout is a superhero. He had always seemed invincible. To see him hurt to the core was absolutely heartbreaking and humbling. The man who embodied the sport that I so heavily relied on was broken and reduced to just someone who had lost his friend. Along with the comments of Andrew Heaney and others, this 10-minute press conference is one that everyone who is able to spare some time should watch in order to gain a better perspective on the fragility of life.
The final key moment in the days and weeks following the Skaggs tragedy was the Angels’ first home game since his passing. To honor him, the entire club wore Skaggs’ number 45 and proceeded to throw a combined no-hitter. The Angels’ performance that night was one of the more surreal sports moments I have ever witnessed with my own eyes, and it again brought me to tears – especially when the entire team laid their forty-five jerseys onto the mound in order to honor their friend in the most appropriate way possible.
So, how does any of this relate to the recent passing of Kobe Bryant?
The emotions I felt when I learned of Skaggs’ death are likely identical to those of NBA fans around the world who grew up with Kobe Bryant as their “invincible” man, as Mike Trout is to me. Kobe had always been their idol and role-model as a champion of perseverance through his “Mamba Mentality”. Bryant touched the lives of so many, and there are far too many tear-jerking stories about him to recount them all. Some of the best can be found here.
While Kobe Bryant’s era was just before my time, I have always appreciated how important a figure he was for sports and culture alike. Kobe did not mean nearly as much to me as he does to so many, yet I can genuinely empathize with everyone that is mourning in the wake of his passing because I understand what it is like to lose a sports figure. It is certainly more devastating than learning of a stranger’s death, but obviously less so than losing a family member.
Yet, that does not make it hurt any less.