You Can Only Grieve So MuchDecember 27, 2018
Will Leitch, contributing editor at New York magazine, national correspondent for MLB.com, film critic for Grierson & Leitch, host of Sports Illustrated’s “ The Will Leitch Show” and founder of Deadspin, is doing his yearly fill-in for Drew Magary on today’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo. (Here is 2011’s version, and here’s 2012’s, and here’s 2013’s, and here’s 2014’s , and here’s 2015's, and here’s 2016's, and here’s 2017's.) Leitch has written four books. Find more of his business at his Twitter feed and his official site. He also has a weekly newsletter he’d very much appreciate if you subscribed to.
I worked the afternoon shift back in April 1999, so by the time I got in the office, everyone was already on the phone, talking to their families, letting them know they were safe. We were in St. Louis, Missouri, at the offices of The Sporting News, where I worked as an online news producer—basically, the trained monkey in charge of staying up until 1 a.m. to post the AP recap of the Sonics–Trail Blazers game to the TSN Website with headlines like “Blazers Outlast Sonics Thanks to Stoudamire’s 24 Points.” It was a dull job, but it was a job.
This day, though, the office was crying. The minute the Columbine massacre, which will turn 20 years old in four months, hit the news, the first thing you wanted to do was talk to someone you loved. All the screens in the office were tuned to CNN, and I remember my boss just standing in front of one, staring up at it slack-jawed and silent, for several minutes. I didn’t have my own desk, so three different TSN employees told me my mother had left a message for me on their answering machines, trying to find me and make sure I was all right. Columbine High School was 900 miles away from St. Louis, but what we were seeing was so violent and horrible that it seemed as if we were all suddenly in some sort of peril. It was happening next door to all of us
The biggest gasp I remember came when they announced the death toll: Fifteen, counting the shooters. Fifteen. The number was unfathomable. We learned later that had pipe bombs in the cafeteria had gone off like they were supposed to, there would have been so many more. But fifteen was horrifying enough. Fifteen people who just went to school that day and died, right there, never coming home. Fifteen. “The most fatal school shooting ever,” they told us, over and over on television all day. It never lost its shock. Fifteen freaking people.
Dave Cullen, a freelance journalist at the time, was having an early lunch 15 miles away from Columbine High School when he saw the same news reports the rest of us did. “I realized that the most horrible thing I’d ever seen was happening just down the road,” he told me. He filed his first story for Salon.com from the scene 12 hours later, and a decade later, he wrote Columbine, the most detailed, in-depth description of what went down that day, what led to it and what we all got wrong in the aftermath. “Fifteen dead people, in one morning. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
I was 23 years old when the shooting happened, just five years older than Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, names that you will know until the day you die. They are immortal.
On November 5, 2017, a man entered the First Baptist Church in a town called Sutherland Springs, with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle, and began firing. He killed 26 people that morning, including the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor, including a visiting pastor who was walking up to give his sermon, who was shot and killed, along with eight members of his family, spanning three generations. It was the fifth-worst mass shooting event, in terms of casualties, in United States history.
So, I gotta ask: Can you tell me the name of the shooter? Can you tell me what state it happened in? Did you know that the shooter was taken down by a local resident, who shot him twice and then chased him down in his truck? Can you name that guy?
Do you even remember this incident at all?
If there’s one way the last 100 years of American culture have felt different than those that came before, that the mores have truly changed in a way that’s palpable, it’s that we have collectively decided that death can be staved off. That, in fact, one of the primary purposes of life is to stave off death as long as possible. We’re supposed to live long now. In 1900, the average lifespan of an American citizen was 49.2; in 1920, it rose to 56.4; by 1930 it was 59. Today, the average life expectancy in the United States is 80 . (It’s 89 in Monaco, and 85 in Japan. It’s 50 in Chad and 52 in Afghanistan.) We are living longer, which, while causing overpopulation problems in the macro, is a unquestioned positive in the micro; no matter how bad each Trump Tweet might make it seem, it is in fact better to be personally alive than personally dead.
But this cannot last. People cannot continue to get older and older. It is unreasonable to expect American life expectancy to expand at its current rate; it has gone up 34 years in the last century, after all, and if it does that again, we’ll all average 114 by 2120, an age only 98 humans have ever reached and one, I’d argue, zero humans have ever actually enjoyed. (I complain enough about my back as is, at 43.) If that rate continued, if a child born today died on their 100th birthday, they would be considered to have died young. And, presumably, crammed in a tiny room with 50 other dying people because there is no space left on the planet to put them.
So when you do the math on this, on the expanding population, a rising age expectancy that has to peak and recede at some point, on the increasing prevalence of events of mass death—including a tsunami in Indonesia that killed more than 400 people less than a week ago that I’ve yet to see anyone in my life even mention—something is going to have to give. Mass shootings are not abating. (The top five mass shootings have all happened in the last 11 years, and three of those top five have been in the last two.) The environment is actively rebelling against us, and honestly it’s just getting started. Scientists warn of plagues and pandemics that a weakened federal government will be unable or even unwilling to protect us from. And, as I got into last year, there are the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons just waiting for mentally unbalanced leaders—or just motivated terrorists, or, for that matter, both—to set them off and achieve their only earthly purpose. This is all going to get worse.
And I think it means that death is, in our lifetime, about to become just not as big of a deal. We won’t be able to help being less emotionally affected by death. Sure, the loss of those closest to us will always devastate us, our families, our closest friends, even cultural icons. But our ability to care aboutdeath will just be a lot more local that it has ever been. Death, and mass death, will just become part of the tapestry. We will still mourn, but with familiarity at first, and then with more comfort, and then with a numbness, and then finally with a mere shrug. It will be everywhere around us. Life will become more and more like an ongoing pilgrimage on the Oregon Trail, where we lose so many of our fellow travelers along the journey that we don’t even slow down to bury them anymore.
It won’t seem that way at first, in the same way that it doesn’t seem that way now, even though it’s already happening. In a social media age, our public grief is commodified, a way to gain acceptance, a performative kabuki to let everyone know that We Are Feeling Very Serious Thoughts. But the human brain only has so much capacity for mourning, and we will soon overload. In the same way a child doesn’t clean their plate just because you tell them people in the Congo are starving, you can’t grieve for everybody. It’s always worse somewhere else far from where you are. But you can only live here.
This becomes particularly stark when you look at the horrifying climate projections, the estimation that large sections of the planet are going to be uninhabitable as early as 20 years from now. How much can you really mourn when there’s a non-zero chance that in 100 years, we’re all dead anyway? We may not be at the end of history at this particular moment. But has it ever felt like more of a possibility? How do we react to the possibility that this is it? I suspect we will talk ourselves into getting used to it. Every day, the White House provides immediate evidence of how skilled we have become at normalizing and rationalizing ghastly news and behavior. (Speaking of things that are just going to get worse.) You can’t cry all the time. You can’t weep for everybody.
This is how 15 deaths can destroy us 20 years ago and barely get a rise out of us today. This is how a man can kill 58 people in a major American city, and injure a staggering 851, and a year later, not only do we have no idea why he did it, we aren’t even all that bothered that we don’t. This is how our government can still, still, have 250 children forcibly separated from their parents, for no goddamned reason at all, and we can still go on with our day, watching football, Tweeting about old Chris Rock videos, taking pictures of our dogs sleeping, rather than screaming naked through the streets. There is always someone starving, somewhere. That doesn’t mean your kid is going to eat that Brussels sprout. We hide from horrors to make it through our day. No matter how many horrors there are.
A shorter way to put this: How would you react if news came across your feed, right now, that 1,382 people were killed in a hurricane halfway across the world from where you currently are? You’d be sad. It’d be a tragedy. You might send some money to wherever money is sent, particularly if all it requires you to do is text a number from your phone. But 1,382? Is that a lot? Or a little? Who can tell anymore? It’s another number, too large to comprehend, too little likely to touch anyone we know. Would 2,382 be enough to rile us? Would any number?
You’d go on with your day, with that vague, foggy sense of sadness and dread we carry with us all the time now. You’d probably forget about it by morning. How can you not? There might be be another 1,382 next week, or tomorrow. Eventually, you have to shut down. There is too much tragedy to compute. There is too much death happening. It will just keep coming.
Dave Cullen has a new book coming out in February, called Parkland. It’s less about the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School last February—the ninth most fatal mass shooting event in American history, edging out the San Bernadino shooting, another one you forgot—and more about the student activists who rose in the wake of it like David Hogg, Emma González, and Jaclyn Corin. The book is more uplifting than Columbine—it would have to be—and is noteworthy mostly in how little it focuses on the event itself, particularly the shooter. “What those students learned was how to make themselves into a bigger media personality than the shooter himself,” Cullen told me. “That was the only way to get the media’s attention.”
Cullen became a media personality himself after the release of Columbine, and he noted, after the Parkland shooting happened, how quickly his phone started ringing to be booked on cable news. This was different, he shortly surmised, than other school shootings, not because of the number of people killed or the style of the attack, but because of the pictures. Most school shootings, after Columbine, are over with quickly; the protocol put in place since 1999 has SWAT teams invading the schools immediately, taking out the perpetrator and then evacuating the school. But the Parkland shooter left the campus disguised as a student within minutes of the shooting and attempted to escape; he was actually on the run for an hour before being apprehended. This led to network video that was similar to Columbine, with students with their hands in the air, and weeping with their friends outside the school, and even broadcasting themselves from inside their classrooms. “All everyone said to me when they asked me to come on their shows was, ‘this reminds me so much of Columbine, and I’m not sure why,’” Cullen says. “But I could tell them why. It’s just the pictures. There have been so many school shootings since that didn’t remind people so directly of Columbine. But that one, by the happenstance of him getting out of there before the police got there, ended up doing that. People cared so much because it was the first one that felt like Columbine.”
Between April 20, 1999, the date of the Columbine shooting, and February 14, 2018, the date of the Parkland shooting, there were 210 school shootings in the United States of America, including one at Mattoon High School in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois. That is one of only three I know any details about, along with Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, and even that one required a high school classmate being the police officer there who saved lives. Otherwise, I couldn’t name a single one of those 210, and I suspect you can’t either. The only thing that captured the national imagination about Parkland was that it reminded them of the one school shooting they did care about, the one they remembered—it was nostalgia for a time when they could still feel something. And we would have forgotten about that one too had it not been for the students who become national figures because their activism afterward, activism that has been rewarded with grown adults shooting up effigies of them.
There will be more. And some will respond with our performative outrage, and then we will all retreat to our corners, convinced of our own righteousness and the other side’s monstrousness. And then we will will numb ourselves. Feel less. More will come. Feel even less. And eventually, maybe not feel anything at all. “It’s impossible not to be overwhelmed,” Cullen says. “Who wouldn’t be? If it hadn’t have been for those students, there’d be no book out of Parkland. There’d be no anything.”
There’d be no anything. The world is falling apart. Death is our ongoing, prevalent companion. We can’t mourn everyone. Maybe someday, maybe soon, maybe now, we will not be able to mourn at all. It might be the only sane way to react to anything. It might be the only way to make it through what is coming.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Bears at Vikings. So. Hello. I’m Will. Every year I fill in on this column, I’m inevitably and quite justifiably lambasted for not being Drew, where’s Drew, I miss Drew, why’s this ass here talking about death when we just want to read Drew writing about football. I have grown accustomed to it, and even a little fond of it, and Drew and I have had plenty of laughs about it over the years, even while I believe he secretly agrees with all of it.
But this year is, obviously, a little different. I am certain there tens upon tens of thousands of people who, upon seeing there was a new Jamboroo published, rushed over here to see Drew’s first published work in a month. Alas! Sorry! It is still only me. From all accounts, Drew is recovering from his accident just fine, and I look forward to seeing him back in this spot again. I’ve known Drew for more than a decade now—I’m pretty sure he inadvertently brained a couple of my little cousins while flailing around on the dance floor at my wedding—and am honored to count him as a friend. But more than anything: I’m a fan. I can’t wait to read him again as much as the rest of you. Get better, man.
Anyway: Sorry, Drew, but the Eagles being in the playoffs would be infinitely more interesting than the Vikings being in the playoffs, so I’m team Bears here. Roquan Smith might be my favorite defensive player in years. He tackles guys like he was dropped from the sky on them.
Oh, and one last time, for Drew:
Colts at Texans. It is disorienting seeing Andrew Luck having the best year of his career after essentially not being able to, you know, throw a football for three years. It seems strange that you can be incapable of performing the basic, fundamental act of your job for three whole years and then get it back and return to being better than almost everybody else at it. They say it’s like riding a bike, but honestly, I haven’t ridden a bike in nearly a decade and I hopped on one over Thankgiving and ran straight into a tree. The good news is that I was still smugly scowling at everyone else who wasn’t on a bike while I was doing it, so I looked appropriately bike-proficient.
Eagles at Washington. At my newsletter a while back, we had a pseudo-fantasy draft of the worst individual days of the Trump administration. What’s your first pick? Family separation day? Travel ban day? Charlottesville? (This was my pick.) The Helsinki press conference? The Kavanaugh hearing? The Mattis resignation? There are just so, so many to choose from. What a fun time it is to be alive, I’m so lucky to have endless access to perpetual information about this particular moment in history, it’s making me and my loved ones and every person I know very happy and calm.
Jets at Patriots. I’ve long made a semi-contrarian argument that when Tom Brady retires, we will all in fact miss him, not because we’ll suddenly discover a fondness for him, but because having villains in sports is half the fun of watching sports in the first place, and Brady is the perfect villain. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll truly admit how hated he was in his time in, say, 50 years, though. People hated Joe Montana, and Dan Marino, and Deion Sanders, and (obviously, and totally unfairly) Randy Moss in their day, and now they all get the crown of Revered Retired Hall of Famer. Put it this way: If our grandchildren ask you someday “what was it like to watch Tom Brady?” if we’re being completely honest, we’ll say, “Well, kids, we screamed at our televisions every time he came on screen. Oh, and we drew penises on his head in Photoshop and posted it to Twitter.” I sort of doubt we will be that honest.
Jaguars at Texans. Hey, how was your Christmas? I spent mine watching Leslie Jones virtual reality commercials about having sex with a fish and reading a Sicario boast about the specifics of all the people he has killed. (Did I get the nomenclature right? Is he called a Sicario? I never saw the sequel, sorry.) I vowed I would take a sabbatical from the internet on Christmas, but I broke it with the trailer for Jordan Peele’s new movie and never looked back. I am sure my children enjoyed themselves, wherever they were and whatever they were doing.
Raiders at Chiefs. I have many friends from Kansas City, and nearly every one of them is convinced they’re winning the Super Bowl this year. Patrick Mahomes is quite the mentalist—he’s made Chiefs fans forget every single thing that has ever happened to them. The only question is who delivers the brutal playoff groin shot to them. Philip Rivers sounds about right.
Chargers at Broncos. The Chargers’ horrible home-field advantage situation isn’t going to be as a big of a story as it could have been, assuming the Chiefs beat the Raiders and push Los Angeles into a No. 5 seed, but I have to say: If you’re not a Chargers fan, it’s actually a fantastic place to watch a football game. Cozy, great sightlines, cheap, hardly any concession lines. Get there while you can. Because you know that Inglewood complex is going to be a capitalism-in-its-end-days nightmare.
Panthers at Saints. One last thing on the Chargers’ temporary home: On January 1, that stadium will change its name to “Dignity Health Sports Park.” What a world we live in that a hospital provider can put the word “dignity” in its name and immediately distinguish itself from its competitors. By the way, that dignity only extends to you if you don’t need a medical procedure that might violate Catholic dogma.
Bengals at Steelers. One of the nice things about nobody really caring about the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that I don’t have to have an sort of opinion about whether or not Ben Roethlisberger is a Hall of Famer. I will say that Cam Jordan, right or wrong, is better at conducting an interview than just about every reporter I know, myself included.
49ers at Rams. The Rams are fun and Todd Gurley is the best and a Chiefs-Rams Super Bowl would delay any of my “THE NFL IS DYING, PEOPLE” columns for at least a week, but you’ll forgive this former St. Louisan for being unable to enjoy it. It is difficult to overstate how disliked Stan Kroenke remains in St. Louis, and surely will be forever. He deserves it. By the way, I was searching for “Stan Kroenke Sucks” videos just now. Here’s an odd one!
Browns at Ravens. I’m not sure there’s a team I’d rather be a fan of moving forward, over the next five or so years, than the Cleveland Browns. That’s an insane thing to say. It is a shame they can’t sneak in the playoffs this year over boring Indianapolis, Tennessee or Baltimore. My only question is the year that Baker Mayfield—who is just the best, just the sort of awesome jackass I wish my team had as its quarterback for the next decade—becomes the most hated athlete in sports, filling the void that Tom Brady left behind. 2021? 2022? Or am I being too conservative?
Cardinals at Seahawks. I’m sorry to keep bringing up the time Josh Rosen put up an Instagram post of himself playing golf at a Trump property—which of course means someone else owned it and rented out Trump’s name, a practice, one suspects, that’s going to become considerably less popular in the coming years—while wearing a FUCK TRUMP hat.
This remains, for the second consecutive year, the only interesting thing about being an Arizona Cardinals fan.
Cowboys at Giants. The book has been out for a few months, but honestly, if you haven’t read Mark Leibovich’s Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times yet, you must. The book is start-to-finish wonderful, but it is important that we never, ever forget the moment when Jerry Jones talked about masturbating in his shoes. The quote, again:
“I’ve sold shoes, and I’ve masturbated in my shoes,” Jones said.
Every reference to Jerry Jones should now be listed as “Jerry Jones, who masturbated in his shoes.” I believe this is now official AP style.
Dolphins at Bills. As is Leitch Jamboroo Fill-In Tradition, I bring you the only video, to this day, that can cheer me up.
It is honestly the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life. I worship it like a god.
Lions at Packers. Did you know I have a show? I hope you do! Yes, I have a show. It is called The Will Leitch Show, because we were trying to come up with the the least inviting name possible. You can watch them all here. All my guests, save one, have been wonderful, but here are my favorite two:
Lea Thompson should be emperor of all she surveys.
Anyway, we’re in between seasons now, but we return in February. Please watch the show so I can see Lea Thompson again.
Falcons at Buccaneers. Shit, there’s another one of these games left? I thought we were done.
Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Wolf Like Me,” by TV on the Radio.
This is, I think, the fourth time I’ve chosen this song for this section of the Jamboroo. It is always the correct choice.
Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death
Look, if you didn’t pick up C.J. Anderson—C.J. Anderson! Who knew he was even still alive?—just in case Todd Gurley didn’t return in time for your fantasy championship, that’s your own damn fault.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2018 chopping block:
Hue Jackson – FIRED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mike McCarthy — FIRED!!!!!!!!
I’ve watched some truly terrible Arizona Cardinals teams before, but firing a coach after his first season … that is a new one.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. I honestly was relieved to know they still make these. The comic is somehow still going too!
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Raiders Fans
Hereditary. Jesus, this movie.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
I was this close to getting out of here without mentioning the Cardinals once.
Thank you, Drew, Barry, Megan and the rest of the Deadspin staff for letting me come back here for my annual drop-in. Seriously, subscribe to that newsletter, I spend way too much time on it. Be safe out there this New Years. May 2019 be better than 2018. (It won’t be.)
And get back soon, Drew.
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