When I rolled over to check the time on my phone in my Louisville, Kentucky, hotel room last Tuesday night, I already knew it had to be about 1 a.m. Of course, it was that exact time. After all, it’s always about 1 a.m. when I first mildly wake during the night.
But there was something different about my phone: I had 62 text messages. I normally don’t get 62 texts in three weeks, much less three hours. Therefore, I knew something had happened.
Before I checked out the texts, I wanted to be sure they were worth reading and not just the typical back-and-forth with various jokes and memes associated with group messages. I knew if I started reading, the odds of my going back to sleep were low.
This particular group of friends are all ’Bama fans, so I opened the messages. I immediately assumed the Tide may have gotten a big commitment and I wanted to know who it was.
Unfortunately, I was very wrong.
Another friend — a friend who was in this same text chain and who may have loved all things Alabama more than any of us — was gone. He had committed suicide just a few hours earlier.
We were all in shock. Or devastated. Probably both. In the moment, it’s hard to know exactly what to feel.
We lost a good friend, a wife lost a husband and the world lost a great person.
I understand the reaction of some who call this act selfish. It’s common to pass judgment on the victim — and they are truly victims — in a time like this because the survivors need a place to put their grieving anger. But those people are incorrect.
A friend in that same text chain later described the act of suicide in a profound way. I am paraphrasing, but he essentially said, on the surface, taking one’s own life can seem selfish, but it is really more like jumping from the top window of a burning building.
In other words, think about how depressed someone must be to believe living is akin to staying put in the doomed penthouse during an inferno, to think they and world (or, at least, their own personal world) is better off with them in it. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem selfish at all — only very tragic.
As we continued discussing our friend’s untimely demise, we all wished we had called, texted, emailed or just flat out driven to see him more. Who knows if it would have helped, but Lord knows it could not have hurt. I don’t think I am speaking out of turn here when I say although our group rarely sees each other, all of us trust the others with confidential problems or for a helping hand.
Inevitably, the conversation became more inward and nostalgic, reaching back to why we are all on the same text chain to begin with: Alabama football. Without the Crimson Tide, the odds more than two or three of us would be friends are slim to none. In fact, it’s more likely we would not ever meet at all — in person or virtually.
That’s the beauty of sports. Our collective fanaticism for a team none of our group could have possibly dreamed to actually play for keeps us in touch even if it is rarely face to face.
So, while we all sadly shared our thoughts on our late buddy, we also reminisced on his devotion to Alabama. Football was his first love, no doubt, but he went to any Tide-related event at any time. He was a fan’s fan.
Somewhere in our grief, I think we all realized the effect the lack of sports due to the pandemic has had on us as well. Missing our friend also made us miss the competition — not because we want a distraction from the sad news, but because the game is the tie that binds us.
I suppose many people want sports back for the escapism. Getting lost in football can whisk away the thoughts of a global virus, financial hardships or lost loved ones. However, our group won’t use Alabama’s upcoming games to forget. We don’t want to forget. We will use sports to remember our friend and the good times we had with him.