Welcome to 2007: no shock at just another city murder

OTHER VOICES

The Kickoff

January 09, 2007|By JOHN SMALLWOOD

PHILADELPHIA -- These are the times that we live in.

We've become hardened, numbed and desensitized to the violence and death that have become an everyday part of our society.

Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed early on the morning of Jan. 1, gunned down while sitting in a stretch limousine after leaving a New Year's Eve party.

About nine hours earlier, he had played in the Broncos' last game of the season - a shocking overtime loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers that eliminated Denver from the playoffs.

There was a time, not all that long ago, that the killing of a professional athlete, no matter his or her stature, would have been the lead story in cities across the nation.

But on Jan. 2, just a little more than 24 hours after Williams was killed in an apparent drive-by shooting, the story was not considered front-page news virtually anywhere except Denver.

As a 12-year-old living in Maryland in 1978, I had never heard of California Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock until he was killed in a drive-by shooting that made national news.

Maybe the years have clouded my recollection, but I sure remember it being big news.

On Jan. 2, NFL.com, the official Web site of the National Football League, listed three cover stories - former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe breaking down the playoff games; reporter Vic Carucci's All-Interview Team; and a feature on the Kansas City Chiefs slipping into the playoffs by virtue of the Broncos' loss.

Williams' violent death was listed in the headlines section, under ones about coaches Jim Mora Jr. and Dennis Green getting fired; Miami coach Nick Saban staying mum on a mega-million-dollar offer from the University of Alabama; wild-card weekend; adopt a playoff team; and vote for your favorite Super Bowl ad.

I wasn't up early on New Year's Day when ESPN began its news cycle, so I can't say for sure how Williams' death was played, but I know that as the bowl scores started coming in, Williams' violent demise dropped further and further down the rotation.

I'm not criticizing the NFL or ESPN or any media outlet.

I'm just pointing out that if the killing of one of its players can be treated in such a minor light by the NFL, is it any wonder that the Philadelphia Daily News rated it lower in significance than Penn State's winning the Outback Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan being the active leader in NFL playoff starts since 1999 or Allen Iverson's playing his first game against the Philadelphia 76ers as a member of the Denver Nuggets?

Hey, we had 406 homicides in Philadelphia in 2006.

We started 2007 off with a bang when police shot and killed a 20-year-old man in an exchange of gunfire about 10 minutes into the new year.

In Philadelphia, as in most urban areas across America, murder by gunfire is a routine daily story. Why should another shooting death get more prominence just because a victim in Denver was an NFL player?

You're right. That's a callous and cold take on things, but that's the entire point of this column.

Once, murder shocked us.

Now, unless the killing is the result of some kind of twisted or bizarre act, unless the victim is an "A-list" celebrity, unless the killer is famous on the way to infamy, murder is just a quick read on the way to a more interesting story.

It's the sign of the times.

About the only thing that virtually every religion agrees on is murder being the most serious of sins, yet, it has become such an accepted part of American society that it can now slip in importance below the results of a sporting event.

Four days after teammate Bryan Pata was shot in the head and killed, the University of Miami football team was sent into action against Maryland.

Does anyone believe that if Denver had made the playoffs the NFL would have postponed an AFC wild-card game during the weekend to allow Broncos players time to grieve?

The justification line would have been Williams loved football and would have wanted Denver to play and win the game for him.

And for 98.992 percent of us, that would have been explanation enough to forget Williams' killing, sit back and enjoy the game.

Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin - whose birthday/New Year's party Williams was attending the morning he was killed - told The Denver Post about the shooting: "It is what it is. ... It's an unfortunate thing. This is not the first time it has happened, and it won't be the last time."

Martin's statement is chilling for its matter-of-factness.

So many young men, particularly young African-American men, grow up around violence and death and they've accepted it as a normal part of life.

Sadly, because we've read about it, heard about it or even seen it so many times, we've done the same thing.

Once, the shooting death of a professional athlete would have shocked us. Now, it's just another everyday thing.

John Smallwood writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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