I’ve been holding off for a while from weighing in on the tragic death of Max Gilpin. The fact of the matter is, until we know for sure what happened in his heat related death at a Pleasure Ridge Park High School football practice, it’s a story that requires great caution from an opinion-writer’s standpoint.
Rick Bozich attended PRP’s first football game since the incident, against Ballard last night. In his column today, he noted all of the remembrances for Gilpin, from T-shirts to signs to stickers to Gilpin’s name on the roster. All of these are right and appropriate.
But the most important two lines of his column come at the end.
They should not wave off the Louisville Metro Police, who are investigating the circumstances surrounding Gilpin’s death at the request of Jefferson Commonwealth Attorney Dave Stengel.
T-shirts, wristbands and moments of silence are a wonderful way to honor Max Gilpin. Getting the answers to everything that happened on the practice field would be the best way.
Clearly, there’s a segment of fans out there that would like to see any public questioning of this player’s death just go away. One reader in the comment section of today’s column admonished Bozich, “if you want to write an editorial, there’s a place in the paper for that.” Yes, there is — and one of those places is in a sports column. Let’s be clear: Bozich’s job, and mine, is to weigh in with opinions on sports issues.
He notes, as I would echo and will say here and elsewhere, that the most important way Gilpin can be honored is by the truth of that day being known.
But you don’t have to listen to me. Or Bozich. Listen to Gilpin’s mother, Michele Crockett, in an interview with The Courier-Journal last weekend.
“I want to know the truth about everything,” she said, in her first sit-down interview after her son’s death. “I want to know what the coaches were saying; I want to know how many sprints they were running; I want to know if they were denied water; and I want to know what they did to help my son after he went down. . . . I just want the truth.”
It is a sensitive topic. I refrained from an opinion piece before Max’s funeral and on the day of, because I didn’t feel it was best to insert that element into things at that time, and because the facts were still (and remain) so murky. But I felt strongly that the investiagion was not being thorough enough and that one was warranted. Then JCPS launched a deeper look, and the Louisville Metro Police Department got involved. Still, the subject of PRP’s first game since Gilpin’s death is one that required this topic to come up, and I thought Bozich handled it in a sensitive and understated way. Probably more subtlely than I would have, but I’d say the way he did it was best. As a reporter, inserting opinion is forbidden. As a columnist, it is required.
For a deeper look into the paper’s handling of this topic, C-J executive editor Bennie Ivory wrote this Op-Ed piece last Sunday.
Some have charged this paper with standing in the way of healing.
But a young man has lost his life. And he has lost it needlessly. And while asking the difficult questions clearly is uncomfortable, it is also the duty of the newspaper, JCPS, PRP High School and even its coaches.
Everyone has procedures to follow in this instance. The coaches and players are still working at football. JCPS and the Louisville Metro Police Department are investigating. And the newspaper will report fact and weigh in with opinion. It’s our job.
There is no excuse for a player dying on the football field. None. It has happened now 33 times in the last dozen years in this country. It has happened twice to high school players in this state in the past five years. It is a serious issue that must not be glossed over.
There’s a T-shirt you see from time to time: “Football is Life, the rest is just details.”
But perspective is badly needed here.
Football is not life. And in this case, the details happen to involve a life and death issue.