Wednesday, August 22, 2007

R.I.P. Eddie Griffin

We don't often stray outside of directly Celtics-related matters here at the Headband, but at the very least a post seems appropriate in order to observe the shocking and tragic death of former NBA forward Eddie Griffin. Griffin actually passed away last week in a horrific collision with a moving train; it wasn't until yesterday that dental records actually established his identity, and rumors are already circulating that it may have been a suicide.

Griffin was last seen in action for the Wolves, who released him in March of this year, but it wasn't long ago that Griffin represented one of the more electrifying talents of the (thoroughly disastrous) 2001 NBA Draft Class. If it weren't for the personal problems that apparently dogged him his entire short life, Eddie Griffin might have been a top-3 pick in 2001 (he went to the Nets at #7, who traded him to the Rockets for Brandon Armstrong, Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson). He was coming off a freshman year at Seton Hall where he'd averaged almost 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, making headlines for punching a teammate in the process. He withdrew from school after the season ended and declared for the draft, which was almost certainly a mistake considering he clearly lacked the maturity to handle even the NCAA Division I athlete existence, let alone the insanities of the NBA life. Griffin often showed potential but struggled with drug and alcohol problems, got suspended a bunch of times, involved himself in an embarrassing car wreck that feels inappropriate to get into here, and now is dead at 25. Just looking over his player profile from years back gives a bitter sense of what might have been.

A thousand and one (white) sportswriters will fall over themselves to frame this story as that of a troubled kid who left school too early, who was given too much too soon, who was an AAU brat since pre-adolescence and was destroyed by outlandish expectations, both his own and those around him. Interesting how this narrative and all its attendant hand-wringing is never employed in the case of, say, Corey Lidle, who recklessly flew a plane into a high-rise last year and killed himself, his co-pilot and injured 21 others. Somehow I doubt there will be nice old ladies holding signs saying "Our Prayers Go Out To Eddie Griffin's Family" when the season opens next year. Lidle's death is just an awful tragedy; Eddie Griffin's is the culmination of the out-of-control-black-athlete narrative that mainstream media never seems to tire of (anyone else sick of Michael Vick coverage?).

I'm not trying to argue that Eddie Griffin wasn't a severely messed up dude, and I'm certainly not trying to argue that his death is somehow more tragic than Corey Lidle's. What I do find fairly reprehensible is the way in which the sports world is all too content to solemnly shake their heads over the evils of the "system" every time something horrible happens to a kid like Eddie Griffin, yet otherwise do absolutely nothing to change it. We wait until some talented kid dies or ends up in jail to bemoan--post facto--the outrageous poverty they were raised in or the way they've been pimped out by adults with dollar signs in their eyes since their first growth spurt. Lidle's death gets the shocked sympathy and prayers of millions because we didn't see it coming; Eddie Griffin's death gets self-righteous "I-told-you-so's" because, let's face it, everyone saw it coming. Come to think of it, maybe in that sense it is more tragic.

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