This past Sunday the sports world lost twice. Jose Fernandez, 24 year old all-star pitcher for the Miami Marlins lost his life in a tragic boating accident. That same evening, golfing icon Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87.
The passing of either would have sent the sport’s world into mourning and reflection. Fernandez was a beloved rising star. His storied escape from his native country Cuba, saving the life of his mother in the process at the age of 15, showed the kind of person he had already become. As for Palmer, golf would have never been the same if not for him. He may have been the sports first true superstar, transcending its popularity beyond the country clubs into the mainstream and paving the way for the multi-million dollar path it travels today.
The lions share of the media coverage went to Fernandez’s story. Not that this is right or wrong. In truth, its contemporary nature, the ability to access his friends, teammates, and fans, and feel the pain of their reaction makes the loss that much more powerful. Jose Fernandez deserves to be remembered and celebrated in every way possible. As does Arnold Palmer. His career accomplishments more than speak for themselves with 62 PGA titles, including seven majors. While it may not be as easy to access his contemporaries and have them input on his brilliance, we should make sure as to never forget all that he was to the sports world. His success in business, philanthropy, and television-media development (co-founder of The Golf Channel) arguably eclipses his athletic career.
In his poem. “To An Athlete Dying Young” A.E. Housman makes the argument that passing away in your prime is a more desired way to be remembered. History will always remember Fernandez as the smiling, talented, rising young star. Palmer on the other hand had to live through his star fading in the eyes of the newer generation who would embrace the likes of Nicklaus, Woods, McIlroy, and others who came on the scene. His athletic best went largely unseen and therefore arguably less appreciated now than it should be.
I can’t say that I would agree that not having the chance to do everything you were capable of is better than the memory of how good you truly were fading away. I can only say that both men have left the sports world a sadder, but ultimately better place by having blessed it with their presence.
Rest in peace Arnold Palmer.
Rest in peace Jose Fernandez.
To An Athlete Dying Young
by A.E. Housman
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
Alfred Edward Housman