Death, tragedy are equal-opportunity realities

Tony Dungee in 2006. GETTY IMAGES
Tony Dungee in 2006. GETTY IMAGES
Posted: August 06, 2012

IT WAS just last January when word came down from Wisconsin that the son of Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin had disappeared. The next day, Michael Philbin's body was found in the Fox River in Oshkosh. He had fallen through the ice, an accidental drowning. More details emerged later, but why something tragic happens never makes up for what happens.

Details of how Andy Reid's son Garrett died on Sunday may emerge later, but, just like in Wisconsin, the details won't change the finality.

Philbin's son died the week the Packers were to play the Giants in the playoffs. His funeral was two days before the game. A few weeks later, Joe Philbin was named head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Weeks after that, toxicology tests revealed that Michael Philbin's blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit.

James Dungy was just 18 when he committed suicide a few days before Christmas in 2005. His girlfriend discovered him in his Tampa apartment. His father, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, was left to deal with his emotions and those of his family.

Professional sports are not immune from life's often-cold realities. There is so much that goes on in sports that the public never sees or hears, unless in the case of Reid's sons, Garrett and Britt, it becomes public. Each had well-publicized legal and drug issues.

The reality is that everybody is one phone call, one knock on the door away from the unthinkable.

Dungy, like Reid, was a well-known public figure, so his son's death resonated beyond the sports world. Philbin was less well-known, but the timing of his son's death was such that it could not help but attract attention.

What plays out in public, however, can never trump what happens in private. Fans see athletes and coaches with what appears to be control. Appearances can be deceiving.

Circumstances were different, but no less tragic when Randall Cunningham's son, Christian, just 2, died in Las Vegas, as the result of a hot-tub accident in June 2010. The Eagles all-timer, so invincible on the field, became a grieving father.

Last November, Griffen Kramer, a quarterback for the Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High football team and the 18-year-old son of longtime former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer, was found dead at a friend's house. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office eventually called it a heroin overdose.

Now, the Reid family is left to wonder why, trying to understand the impossible to understand, as we all realize again that death plays no favorites and sports is just part of our wider culture, with all its agonizing mystery.

Contact Dick Jerardi at jerardd@phillynews.com.

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