April 28, 2007, was a great day for Gaines Adams.
As a nationally renowned defensive end out of Clemson University, Adams was drafted fourth overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was brought in to reinvigorate the tenacity that the Buccaneers defensive line had once had. He was the new edition of Simeon Rice. His careeer in professional football was brighter than midday sunshine in July.
January 17, 2010, was a different kind of day.
Sunday morning I woke up to the news that Gaines Adams had died. The facts would begin uncertain, but then slowly begin to clear up. Adams, now a member of the Chicago Bears, had died of cardiac arrest at the tender age of 26. It was caused by an enlarged heart, a condition that no doctors had ever diagnosed Adams to have.
The handling of this news has been seemingly awkward. Due to the fact that Adams only spent 10 games in Chicago, there was little personal attachment for the team to relate with the situation. Linebacker Brian Urlacher even came out to say that he didn’t really know Adams at all, but said that his death was “crazy.”
The Chicago Tribune was not nearly so tactful.
In Monday’s edition of the Tribune, there was an article that began with a lede saying that Adams’ death leaves many more questions than answers. The article went on to list a FAQ-esque guide to the Adams death, all of those questions relating to football and contracts. The piece included lovely lines like “Adams’ contract expired upon his death. The Bears owe him nothing else.” There is also a saddening explanation for all of those Bears fans whose first reaction after hearing of Adams’ death was “wait, are we going to get a draft pick compensation for this?” The answer is no.
The newspaper’s dehumanizing of a brutally human situation was a little sickening. One day after the death of a 26-year-old, the focus was turned to the business side of the ordeal. I realize that this is professional football and it is supposed to be a “hardball” business, but sometimes things have to be less robotic.
While handled better, the situation was still slightly awkward in Tampa, where Adams spent most of his short-lived career. In the public eye of Tampa, Adams was never embraced. He was known as the over-hyped high draft pick that became a “bust” in the words of coach Raheem Morris. He took plays off, he seemed to lack the aggression needed to institute the tenacity mentioned earlier.
But on days like Sunday that make people realize that these are real people playing this rather trivial game, Tampa sports media treated the news like it should have been treated. Adams’ death was not a football story, it was a personal story. Wrote John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times:
“I’m guessing you would have liked Gaines Adams if he had not been the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft.
You would have liked him if he had not walked in the door on the same day the Buccaneers told Simeon Rice to walk out, or if he had not been handed a $15 million signing bonus before he ever played a down in the NFL.
I’m guessing you would have liked Gaines Adams if you had ever met him.
For in the end, he was a better man than he was a football player. He was a quiet, decent, unassuming guy who would display pictures of his children in his locker, and disguise the frustrations of his job behind a wide grin.”
We have a habit of remembering our sports figures solely by the accomplishments that they achieve on the field. I don’t fault us for that. It is human nature to view football players as football players, lawyers as lawyers, teachers as teachers. If it was not for football, there is an overwhelming chance that we would never know who these individuals are.
However, for better or worse, I think it is vital to at least look slightly beyond trade value and sack numbers when evaluating and acknowledging a life.