The Weekly Buzz- Sympathy For Sports Stars


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When Is Enough, Enough?

Shock waves were sent through Western New York (and the rest of the sports world) this past week when it became public knowledge that Buffalo Bills’ Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly had been diagnosed with jawbone cancer. When it comes to the face of a franchise, Jim Kelly fits that mold for the Buffalo Bills. Having quarterbacked the Bills to four straight Super Bowls in addition to his work with Hunters Hope, the Kelly For Kids Foundation & other numerous community endeavors, it’s fairly easy to see why. The man has become synonymous with Buffalo even years after hanging up his cleats, which is a testament to the community and the people in it. He produced excellence on the field and carried that same mentality off of it. Surely during trying times, such as being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, we would expect that very community to show a sense of compassion. HOWEVER… where do we draw the line?

(courtesy: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

(courtesy: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

After the news broke there was the expected outpouring of well wishes. To many it was as if a member of their own family had been diagnosed with the dreaded disease and their immediate focus was on how to support Jim & his family. After a few days however, feelings began to change. As I turned my attention to both Twitter and Facebook, more and more people were growing tired of the media circus surrounding the news and it caused me to stop and think about what was happening. Were people really complaining about others supporting a local icon as he prepared to fight for his life? Yes, but here’s why.

According to a study done last year by the National Cancer Institute, over 12,000,000 people in the US have cancer alone. Chances are you know someone who has had the disease, whether they beat it or not. Even at an extremely young age kids learn to associate Cancer, as being this scary, terrible thing that takes there loved ones away. Those who have opposed the media’s overwhelming sympathy have asked, with all of these people suffering, why is one man in particular getting all the attention?

On the flip side I can see where supporters could say that these professional athletes live their lives under a microscope. Every move they make during their careers (and often times even after) is scrutinized to a level that few of us can even imagine. Granted you sign up for that when entering into the world of professional sports, but it doesn’t change the fact that your privacy essentially becomes extinct. If you are forced to live in the public’s eye during the good times, then shouldn’t you also receive the benefit of the public’s attention during times like these?

The part that still surprises me however, is people’s willingness to go public with their disapproval. It seems even a few years ago, from a societal perspective, it was “faux pas” to ever take issue with someone whose life was on the line. Similarly to how we celebrate less than stellar human beings once they pass away, having Cancer seemed to always give you a free pass… but not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I understand people aren’t necessarily blaming Jim for the attention he’s garnering from the media, but they also aren’t holding back.

(courtesy: Gary Wiepert, AP)

(courtesy: Gary Wiepert, AP)

For me it tends to fall somewhere in between. Having lost family members due to Cancer myself, I understand the collective angst that has formed over the constant coverage of Kelly’s diagnosis & now surgery. As many others I’m sure would agree, I wish there was a way we could bring awareness to every single one of the 12,000,000 plus people suffering from Cancer in the US & beyond, but that obviously isn’t a reality. However, if being a life-long Buffalo sports fan has taught me anything, it’s the sense of community/family that loving sports around here comes with. You grow to care about the guys that play for your teams and want to see them succeed on & off the field. In modern times that ideology is only growing as social media is providing unparalleled access to athletes that fans use to only be able to dream about. In 2013 it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to know the guy who is behind the helmet.

Typically in my columns I try to give you my definitive stance on whatever topic I’m writing about, but today I’ll do no such thing. Why, you may ask? It’s simple really, in this particular circumstance I am split straight down the middle. Do I feel the media has gone overboard in their coverage? Certainly. Do I feel for Jim & the Kelly’s on an emotional level despite all that? You bet.

For us fans it’s often times extremely difficult to separate the importance of winning on the field, ice, court, etc. with things that matter off of it. Unfortunately, it typically takes a large-scale tragedy or life-changing event to open our eyes (at least temporarily) before we revert back to our old ways. It’s human nature. In this instance, however the two worlds have collided as a tragic event has befallen a titan in Buffalo sports. We are forced to pop our sports bubble and let the real world come inside. Seeing guys like Jim Kelly do what they do on the football field tends to make you think they are invincible & that no harm can come to them. Then something like this happens and completely screws with the universe.

At the end of the day I leave it to you to decide when enough is enough. As individuals with our own life experiences, we’ll all draw different conclusions. What is intolerable to me may be perfectly acceptable to you and such is life. I do want to say I think there is one thing we can ALL agree on… Cancer sucks.

Tweet of the Week:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Have thoughts about this week’s column or a topic you want featured in next week’s column? Get at me on Twitter:

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Bradley Gelber

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