Column: Thank you, sports, you give us community through tragedy

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The loss of a life is indescribable. There is simply no way to put a person into words. No matter how hard we try, there is always more. There has been a lot of loss lately, and I am struggling with it.  

On Sunday night, the world lost one of the greatest basketball players of all time and his 13-year-old daughter, who was on her own path to stardom. We also lost seven others in the crash. That makes nine lives, gone faster than anyone could have imagined. All it took was a loud whine piercing through the fog and a loud thud — then they were all gone. 

No matter what happened to them, their names will live on. When people throw their papers in the trash, they yell Kobe. His legacy is so far-reaching and so broad, and that will never change.  

He was not perfect, as he had damning rape allegations presented against him in 2003. That’s a part of his legacy, and it would be irresponsible not to mention it. I am not a Kobe fan for this exact reason. Personally, I can’t make it past these allegations. I can’t celebrate a man who may have done something like this, no matter how much he said he had grown since it happened. But there are a lot more opinions out there than mine, and he meant a lot to so many people. 


Fans of Kobe Bryant mourn at a memorial to him in front of Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, after word of the Lakers star's death in a helicopter crash, in downtown Los Angeles Sunday.  Photo courtesy of Matt Martman/AP Photo

Fans of Kobe Bryant mourn at a memorial to him in front of Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, after word of the Lakers star’s death in a helicopter crash, in downtown Los Angeles Sunday. Photo courtesy of Matt Martman/AP Photo

His basketball legacy is the thousands of people that gathered around the Staples Center just hours after the news broke. His legacy is the thousands of NBA fans cheering his name in arenas throughout the league Sunday. 

My favorite part of sports is no matter what happens, we are there for each other. Any time a tragedy strikes our community, we pick each other up. When we lose someone, we know that someone out there will extend their arms — whether that’s a crowd of people or the sport itself. 

Sports give us community. They give us stability. No matter what is going on in your personal life, you can fire up the radio or turn on the television and your favorite athletes will be there, grinding. You can go outside and grind just like Kobe did. He grinded like no one else and inspired thousands to do the same.  

When I was 9 years old, I went through one of the most difficult times of my life and baseball gave me a place to be okay. I could pick up my glove, go outside and take my mind to the mound of a hypothetical Game 7 of the World Series — no matter what was going on inside the walls of my house. That’s the reality for thousands of kids across the country.  

When I was 17 and felt the most alone I’ve ever felt, it was there again. There were times in my life when I cried more days in a week than not. There were panic attacks, and there were days I had to leave class to find a quiet spot to sob in peace. 

Even with that going on, I knew at the end of the day I had baseball practice to distract me long enough to ease the pain. Baseball made it easier to stomach what I was feeling. I had something to look forward to. I am so thankful for those moments. I frankly would not be where I am today without them. 


Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant sits on the shoulders of her father, Kobe, as they attend the women's soccer match between the United States and China Thursday in San Diego.  Photo courtesy of Lenny Ignelzi/AP Photo

Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant sits on the shoulders of her father, Kobe, as they attend the women’s soccer match between the United States and China Thursday in San Diego. Photo courtesy of Lenny Ignelzi/AP Photo

His daughter, Gianna, was killed as well. That’s partially why this event is so hard to swallow. She was going to be great, and she was going to be a UConn Husky, and now she’s gone before she ever got the chance. She will never get to sign her letter of intent with her dad’s giant hand on her shoulder. She won’t get her national championship moment — all she got was the hypotheticals. 

Being Kobe Bryant’s daughter comes with mountains of expectations, and it seemed basketball was her favorite way to realize those expectations. She was robbed of that. Even more than basketball, she was just a kid. 

One of the things I found most difficult about being zoned into the Twitter-sphere Sunday was a tweet by Shareef O’Neal, son of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. Shareef said Bryant had reached out to him Sunday morning, seemingly out of the blue, with the message “You good fam?” Shareef went on to ask, “How you been?” But Kobe never had the chance to answer. 

I feel for Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and Gigi’s mom. I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now. To feel your whole world change in an instant. To have your whole perspective on life fall apart with a fleeting thought. To feel like you’re living life in the third person. Living a life that isn’t real.  

Over the past few days I have rephrased, rewritten and rearranged these words over and over. The puzzle still won’t click. No matter how hard I try, it isn’t right. 

That’s what thinking through loss feels like — no matter which way you try to move it around your head, the pieces just don’t fit. 

If you are having a hard time, we are here for you. We have a pillar to stand on, and we can make room on the top for you. No one should feel alone on a planet of over 7 billion.  

Sports have been there for me at every turn, and the community is here for you. If you need help, extend a hand and we’ll carry you. 


Mike Mavredakis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.quinn-mavredakis@uconn.edu. He tweets @mmavredakis.

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