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May 14, 2011
HURT: Rivals unite in grief
Once again, the University of Alabama football team will join with a rival today in sadness and reflection.
The two schools won't be brought together by a regional disaster like the tornado that ripped through much of the Southeast - and directly through Tuscaloosa - just over two weeks ago. The response to that storm has been a common cause for the schools and athletic teams from across the state, and the other affected states.
Today, it is a more personal matter, but one that still touches two teams and two families.
The memorial service for UA player Aaron Douglas, who spent two years at Tennessee before transferring, will be held in Knoxville, Tenn., today. Douglas' ties to that area ran deep - both of his parents were former UT athletes as well.
His stay in Tuscaloosa was more brief, a few months, including spring football, but the fact he didn't stay here long or appear in a game doesn't mean he wasn't a member of the Alabama team, one who had already formed friendships and started working towards the 2011 season.
No doubt his decision to transfer away from Tennessee caused some hard feelings at the time among some Volunteer fans. That's human nature. The same things happens at other places, including Alabama.
None of that matters now. All that matters is Douglas, who died on Thursday morning in Fernandina Beach, Fla., from causes that remain undisclosed, is gone at far too young an age, only 21.
Today, his old teammates, and his new ones, will set aside competition and mourn together, then work to recover. It has been an all-too-common theme recently, but it is still important to remember that a single life transcends a game, just as the hundreds of lives lost in the tornado do as well.
Eventually, the focus in the community and in this column is going to shift back to sports. It hasn't yet, because events have simply been too much to ignore, whether the destruction of large parts of a community or the death of an athlete.
The rest of the world obviously is continuing on its way, with the usual sports stories that range from the inspiring - like Friday's visits with Julio Jones, Brandon Deaderick and Rashad Johnson - to the infuriating - like ESPN Insider's appalling coverage of the Douglas story in the "context" of how it affected Alabama's offensive line depth.
Both those stories - and a lot more - probably demanded more comment than I gave to either. It's simply a matter of regaining perspective.
The tornado did not pull along, in its wake, all the silliness and greed and hypocrisy in the sports world. There is still plenty to go around. The ESPN Insider story (and, to be fair, ESPN has apologized for it) was just one example. There have been others, softballs that came right across the plate, begging to get a righteous smiting.
That's part of good sports coverage, and lively comment. It just isn't quite time yet, at least for me. As the summer goes along, and football season approaches, this space will once again be devoted to the give-and-take of rivalries, and a fair mix (I hope) of analysis, criticism, honesty and humor. Those are all parts of good sports coverage. But at the moment, the best idea seems to me to focus on the positives that arise from the greatest negatives. The setting aside of rivalries, the working to rebuild shattered homes, or shattered lives.
There has been all too much of it lately, and today in Knoxville will be no exception. But let's hope that something good will come from a service where two teams - and many more family members and friends - remember Aaron Douglas, and the good parts of a life that was too short.