Tragedies Shine Light on Prejudices

A great article from Kevin Blackistone


One was a young man who’d just crossed the threshold of his life’s dream. The other was an older man who long ago escaped his life’s nightmare.

Both had just left their places of employment after an honest day’s work; the young man from his gig with a Southern California baseball team, and the older man from his job unloading cargo containers at the Port of Miami. The young man was riding in a car with friends, and the older man, who couldn’t afford a car, was walking to a bus stop.

It was then when each met the same fate twisted in tragic coincidence.

The young man, 22-year-old Nick Adenhart, who was an up-and-coming star pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, was killed when a minivan, driven by a then-unknown man suspected to be drunk, broadsided the car in which Adenhart was a passenger. The older man, 59-year-old Mario Reyes, was killed when a Bentley driven by a well-known pro football player, Cleveland Browns’ receiver Donte Stallworth, struck Reyes while Reyes was crossing the street.

Adenhart’s tragic death on Thursday became a major news story that transcended the sports pages and will continue to be covered with his funeral next week in Maryland, his home state. He will undoubtedly be commemorated by his team and major league baseball the rest of this season.

Reyes’ tragic death in the middle of last month was all but obscured by the story of the pro athlete charged with driving-under-the-influence manslaughter in killing Reyes. Reyes since has all but been forgotten, dead and buried in a funeral that most of us in the media, especially the national media, weren’t moved to cover.

Consider Adenhart and Reyes separated at worth.

Neither man’s death, of course, was more tragic than the other. We in the media just made it seem that way. We always do. It reminded me of what George Jackson observed of our society in one his political economy treatises from prison: “We are not worth more than the amount of capital we can raise.”

That which befalls the rich and famous is always presented with more importance than that which befalls the everyman. That is an unfortunate truth. We see it all the time. We paid particular attention to the murder of Washington Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor a couple of years ago while all but ignoring the similar deaths of other young men like Taylor that have been nothing short of epidemic. The drunk-driving deaths of Adenhart and Reyes so close together reminded of our bias.

As a result, the death of Adenhart — who had just pitched six scoreless innings, and was scheduled to make $400,000 this year from the Angels after getting $710,000 just for signing a contract with the Angels — echoed across the airwaves and Web sites as more horrific. The death of Reyes did not.

In only a few circles was it revealed who was Mario Reyes. He was the husband of almost 20 years to Catalina, and the father of a 15-year-old daughter, Daniela. He immigrated to South Florida from Cuba as a teenager. He couldn’t afford to go to college. He paid his bills by working numerous construction jobs before becoming an overnight crane operator in Miami.

Reyes was described as an avid baseball fan and was said to be particularly fond of Miami’s Florida Marlins and his native country’s national team.

His family and co-workers said he had clocked out only minutes before the accident that took his life around seven in the morning. The Miami Herald quoted Reyes’ co-worker Renier Calana: “When the time came for him to leave, he grabbed his stuff and headed to the bus stop out front.”

A brother-in-law told The Associated Press that Reyes “spent all his free time with his family.” He wasn’t unlike a lot of other Cuban-American families in greater Miami.

Reyes led a life like most of us — remarkable in its ordinariness. Had he not been struck and killed by someone as famous as Adenhart — Stallworth, another pro athlete — most all of us would never have heard of Reyes, if we remember him at all just a few weeks after his demise. Adenhart we will not soon forget.

What is most important to recall from the tragedy that struck down both of these men, however, isn’t what these two men did for their livelihoods. It is the tragedy of drunk driving itself.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, someone, no matter their station in life, is killed by a drunk driver every 40 minutes. In 2007, an estimated 12,998 people died in drunk driving related crashes. The good news is that represented a decline of 3.7 percent from 13,491 drunk driving-related fatalities in 2006.

Of course, one drunk driving death is one too many. As Charles Barkley confessed in February upon returning to TNT NBA broadcasts following his New Year’s Eve DUI bust in Scottsdale, Ariz.: “I will never get behind a wheel when I’ve been drinking … I could be a hypocrite and say I hope nobody drinks and drives, but, clearly, that’s unrealistic. But I want everybody to really seriously think about … if I had something to drink, clearly you can kill somebody else, or you can kill yourself.”

Barkley was talking about all of us, the famous and the ordinary, the young and the old, the rich and the working class.

My worry is that this message is only heard when it is someone of fame, like Nick Adenhart — described as having his whole life ahead of him — who suffers the horrible fate. It is as if other victims of this insidious deadly chance don’t have as much life worth living.


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