The Mixing of Reality With Sports Land

    Sometimes, tragically, the Never Never Land that is the sports world intertwines horribly with the reality of everyday life.

    This was again apparent this weekend when two legends of the sports world, Dale Earnhardt and Eddie Matthews, left us forever.

    The shock of it all did not set in until I opened up the sports section of a local newspaper. The stories of Earnhardt and Matthews were the only two on the page — dominating, reminding.

    Earnhardt lost his life doing what he did best, fighting for the lead of a NASCAR race. He died on the last turn of the last lap at the Daytona 500.

    Earnhardt was one of the greatest race car drivers ever. He was the Intimidator. He would just as soon have run over someone for the checkered flag. A lot of people may not have liked him. Many may have even despised him — his brashness, his bullying — but everyone respected him as one of the greats.

    Again, the argument regarding the dangers of racing automobiles at speeds over 150 miles an hour comes to the forefront. Should something be done to make it safer? Yes. But the risk involved is unfortunately the nature of the sport.

    Earnhardt will never be matched, let alone replaced. He will be missed, not only by his family and by NASCAR, but by the millions of fans who watched him every year race around turns, dominating.

    Matthews’ story is not as sensational, but not any less sobering. He died Sunday of complications from pneumonia. He was 69 years old.

    Matthews was one of the greatest baseball players ever. He launched 512 home runs. He dominated third base. He died of pneumonia? Only 69? No matter how great you are, no matter how many home runs you hit or how many fans you still have, something as common as pneumonia can take your life.

    I would like to believe that sports stars are immortal, that they are perfect and that they are untouchable. But it is not the case. Car accidents happen, as happened to a pair of NBA players last year. Diseases strike stars, as Magic Johnson, Sean Elliot and Lou Gerghig can attest. Alcoholism and depression and just plain old bad luck happen to these people. Their work place is a lot different. Their fame is much greater and their pay sets them up for life, but when it comes right down to life and death, there is no difference between them and us. They are just like us. They are mortals.

    Let’s appreciate those seemingly immortal people we watch on the television and read in the papers about day in and day out. They won’t be with us forever, and they may leave tomorrow.

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