Athlete’s death indicative of larger issue



Column by Austin Hill

Matt James had overcome the adversity of being undersized to pursue his dream of playing college football.

While attending St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, 17-year-old James hit a growth spurt, developing into a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle.

On his way to play football for Notre Dame after graduation, James became the top recruit for new coach Brian Kelley and the Fighting Irish.

Last week, James took off for his final Spring Break before college, heading down to Panama City, Fla., with some teammates. On Friday, his parents got together to celebrate his uncle’s 50th birthday. It was at the party they received a phone call, and the news their son had died.

He was drunk, and according to witnesses, acting belligerent. He then walked onto the balcony, leaned over to shake his finger at people in the next room over when Jones fell five floors to his death.

Described as “a gentle giant,” James’ dreams of playing football are now gone and his family is left to wonder “Why?”

Spring Break has become a sport of its own as participants flock to various locations to compete in various forms of binge drinking.

Such as the case of James, many of these participants are underage high school seniors and college underclassmen looking for debauchery without parental supervision.

No one goes to Panama City or Cancun, Mexico to sightsee for Spring Break, they go to party without a chaperone.

Yes, cases like James and those not of legal drinking age might be questioned by those who are over 21, but the behaviors are all the same.

In Panama City, James was one of two people killed in alcohol-related falls from hotel balconies this year.

There were 483 arrests made for underage drinking, up from 114 last year. These trends continue as social norms like this are condoned. It is no secret when places like Panama City become crowded during Spring Break season. People are there to do one thing: drink.

Alcohol tolerances are inflated during these drinking Olympics, giving no regard to heat conditions and sun exposure. According to a study conducted by the Journal of College Health, males were reported to have consumed an average of 18 drinks a day, while women were averaged at 10.

For those who are fortunate enough not to take a tumble off a high rise, there is the possibility of alcohol-related heat stroke or poisoning, and dehydration.

People are allowed travel go every year to kill their liver. Since this behavior has been allowed for so long, it is hard to just slam on the brakes and say, well now we think it is not a good idea.

But really it is not.

People are not allowed to drink openly in public year round in these destinations yet they are during selected weeks. Remind anyone of the social dangers of tailgating?

The perception is created that this type of behavior is fun when the results can be anything but.

Yet, when something tragic like this occurs, people can’t seem to understand why this had to happen.

The impression Spring Break gives is that breaking free from school to kill brain cells is a worthwhile practice. After all, that is what normal people do with a break from responsibility.

But this mentality creates a double-edged sword. With an idea like this sent in people’s minds as a good way to blow off steam, what do we think they’re going to do any other night of the week?

Examples are falling around Keeneland every meet.

Most victims of alcohol-related fatalities don’t intend on these things happening, most don’t mean to die and most don’t think it can happen to them.

Every drinker thinks they can handle their liquor, but the truth is no one can control how liquor handles you.

When someone is drunk, you cannot make it stop. The alcohol has you, and until it has run its course it won’t let go.

People sleepwalk drunk, or in other related terms “blackout,” and in the blink of an eye you can be gone.

Matt James’ story is unfortunate, and too often this happens to others individuals who don’t have scholarships to play football, or have their name in the paper.

All of these stories add up to a continuing problem with alcohol abuse. Through social acceptance, the abuse will continue to trade dreams for nightmares and replace smiles with tears.