Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Obituary Need Not Be Positive Pablum

Comparing the New York Times and Los Angeles Times obituaries on Darryl Stingley, the paralyzed former pro football player who died Thursday at the age of 55, is instructive. The great NYT sportswriter Frank Litsky did a far better job than the L.A. Times sportswriter, Sam Farmer.

Obituaries need not be all positive. Sometimes, dismal facts must be allowed to intrude.

Both Litsky and Farmer did let facts intrude, but Litsky properly dealt at length with Jack Tatum, the Oakland Raider player whose intentional hit against Stingley, when Stingley was playing for the New England Patriots in 1978, rendered Stingley a quadriplegic for life, while Farmer dealt more with mistakes made in Stingley's treatment immediately after the injury occurred.

Tatum never apologized for his foul hit against Stingley, never went to see Stingley. In other words, he compounded the sin by his subsequent conduct and proved himself a thoroughly miserable human being.

As Litsky reported, Stingley ultimately forgave Tatum, telling the Boston Globe in 2003, "One person deliberately hurt another person. I'm not in denial about it. He said he went out there to hurt and maim people. But for me to go on and adapt to a new way of life, I had to forgive him."

That same year, complications of diabetes led to the amputation of Tatum's left leg below the knee, and his right leg was threatened by a blocked artery.

But Stingley did not gloat.. "You can't, as a human being, feel happy about something like that happening to another human being," he said. "Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him, but I don't accept human nature as our real nature. Human nature teaches us to hate. God teaches us to love."

Litsky observes, in his obituary of Stingley, "Similar sentiments appeared in Stingley's 1983 autobiography, 'Happy to Be Alive.' Tatum's autobiography was titled, 'They Call Me Assassin.'"

Farmer's obituary, on the other hand, goes quite a bit easier on Tatum. It mentions the two players never met after the injury, but it goes lighter on Tatum's reprehensible failure to apologize. He does indicate that Tatum actually tried to capitalize on the incident.

Farmer does, appropriately, note that those who rushed to aid Stingley after the Tatum hit occurred, failed to properly stabilize his head, which might have lessened the ultimate paralysis.

Inappropriately, the Farmer obituary, however, never describes the Tatum hit as intentional. Litsky, appropriately, describes it in the lead paragraph of his obituary as "an intentionally violent hit." In a later paragraph, he adds, "Tatum symbolized the violent play of many National Football League players at the time. He was not penalized on the play, and the league took no action, but it tightened its rules to punish players who made such hits."

Litsky is a great sportswriter. The comparison of the two obituaries proves that Farmer isn't one yet.

--

A Chicago Tribune story notes that the inept CEO of the Tribune Co., Dennis FitzSimons, was given a $1.4 million bonus for 2006, compared to $250,000 for 2005 and $260,000 in 2004. On top of the bonus, FitzSimons received $999,327 in salary in 2006.

This is another corporate spectacular. The more CEOs drive their companies into the ground, the better they seem to be compensated. FitzSimon's big bonus qualifies him for a bigger separation package should he leave the company.

The Tribune buyer, Sam Zell, has said he plans, at least for the time being, to keep FitzSimons and other Tribune executives in place, at least until he can evaluate their efficiency. Judging from FitzSimons' record, he deserves to be terminated as soon as possible, and, judging from his mistreatment of the company's properties outside of Chicago, he should never be permitted to work outside that city again.

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