When Michael R. Edmonds Jr. took his own life by jumping from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s upper level Sunday night, the meaning of the location was permanently changed.
For so long, the stadium had a simple, yet strangely important, meaning to me.
On one hand, it was a place where student-athletes gathered to play relatively insignificant football games.
On the other hand, Ben Hill Griffin was paramount. It was the place where gladiators battled for supremacy, driving a multi-million dollar industry in front of thousands of fans pushed to the edge of riots by the outcome.
But for that to happen right there, for Michael to leap from the same heights I rapidly descend in the closing seconds of every home football game, it makes me question my career choice.
Why do sports really matter, and why am I covering what I’m covering?
The one thing that sticks out to me, that keeps me on the career path I’m on, is how sports can act as a channel or a source of hope for all people, especially those in distress.
Even Michael found a measure of solace in sports. As Tyler Jett so magnificently wrote in the obituary that ran in our paper on Monday, Michael was a member of Team Florida Cycling who was often at his happiest when riding. Friends used to laugh at the Gators-themed rants he would post to his Facebook.
About six or eight months back, a friend of mine basically asked me why I was wasting my time writing sports. There are so many other things to be worried about: the national debt, capitalism, healthcare, human rights, so on and so forth.
In his eyes, I was providing the circus end of the “bread and circus” that government was using to keep society appeased while atrocities went unchecked.
But being a sportswriter isn’t a vote for ignorance, and it’s not a message that keeping up with news and politics is unimportant.
It’s a chance to highlight all the good things in sports, from inspirational underdog stories to everything a man like Jackie Robinson did for racial equality. It’s about a father and son sharing a moment at the ballpark, and all those who need an escape.
What we’re aiming to do is provide an avenue for people with problems to forget about them for just a few minutes, to find a beacon of hope in a world filled with trouble.
But, for some, that won’t be enough.
For Michael, a back injury suffered in a biking accident left him in a brace and unable to ride, cutting off his sporting outlet and adding to an array of issues that included bipolar disorder.
“I never knew it was possible to miss something this bad,” he posted to his Twitter account. “...can we rewind life and restore my back? I NEED to ride a bike.”
Even though Michael was starting to come around — he had bought a new bike and gotten medical clearance to ride in the past few weeks, according to the Florida Times-Union — the events of Sunday passed as they did.
Those in distress need to know they can fall back on friends, family and loved ones in their time of need. When that’s not enough, that support system can extend to UF’s Counseling & Wellness Center, which is available any time at 352-392-1575.
While nothing we cover in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this year will be nearly as significant as what happened just outside its walls on Sunday, my only hope is that our work at alligatorSports puts a smile on at least a few people’s faces, and that those who need to will know where to go for help if they need it.
Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].