“A senseless act of violence.” That is how University of New Mexico (UNM) athletic director Eddie Nunez described the May 4 shooting death of 23-year-old UNM baseball player Jackson Weller.
However, he might just as easily have been describing the killing the same day of 14-year-old football phenom Jaylon McKenzie, shot along with a 15-year-old girl at a party. Or the shooting death six days earlier of Dwane Simmons and the wounding of his college roommate, Corey Ballentine, recently drafted by the New York Giants. Three young athletes killed in the space of a week.
Three families destroyed. Three promising athletic careers cut short.
Devastating. Tragic, but maybe not so senseless.
There is a certain perverse logic when we look at the numbers, the macabre math of murder.
A US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report concluded that gun deaths in the US were at a 20-year high at nearly 40,000 people in 2017.
A previous CDC report placed homicide by firearm as the second-leading injury category for Americans between the ages of 15 and 24.
Given these statistics — and many more — it seems less “senseless” that these shootings take place, than inevitable. The senselessness is in our drowsy reaction.
Gun violence is of particular interest to athletes of color, because they are more in danger of being victims than their white teammates. African-Americans comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet as of 2017, players of color made up 42.5 percent of the MLB, 80.7 percent of the NBA and more than 70 percent of the NFL.
At the same time, blacks make up 58 percent of gun homicide victims, while guns are the leading cause of death of black males 15 to 34.
Among whites, 77 percent of gun deaths are the result of suicide, while among blacks 82 percent of gun deaths are the result of homicide.
This is especially worrisome when you realize that while 41 percent of white households own guns, only 19 percent of black households do. Fewer blacks have guns, but they are much more likely to catch a bullet.
I own guns. Over the years, I have supplemented my studies of the history of the Old West by collecting a number of guns and other paraphernalia from that era. So, this is not a finger-wagging creed demanding the banning of all firearms. Instead, it is an exploration of the passive-aggressive and sometimes abusive relationship among sports, violence and guns. All three of these are powerful social influencers of how the world sees the US and how Americans see themselves. Maybe therein lies the answer.
Violence is in the DNA of most popular sports, which either include some form of violence in the play and/or elicit violence from rabid fans.
Perhaps the worst case of fan violence occurred in 532 during which a chariot race resulted in half of Constantinople being burned and 30,000 people killed.
Most people are familiar with more modern fan riots following championships as well as games in which players (myself included) punch, kick, or bite each other.
While fan violence is difficult to control, players have to behave within strict rules or be punished. Sport tries to create a well-regulated form of entertainment that pushes athletes to their physical and emotional edges, but reins them in from going too far.
In general, that philosophy works so that sport, while acknowledging our aggressive impulses, promotes individuals striving to go beyond what people have achieved before.