AFTERWORD Death of an Athlete ILAST APRIL IN EL PASO, Jeep Jackson, a young black man, was playing a benefit basketball game at a local gym. He was playing well, as he always did, a true guard with lots of spit and quickness, the sure hands of a thief on defense, and, his trademark, the innocent smile of a boy simply playing a game. The coach substituted for him, and Jeep came out to wait his next turn, anxious to get back in. Only a few minutes later he was dead. His heart quit working, a sudden spasm. His friends thought he was joking, the way his eyes bugged out, funny-like: “C’mon Jeep, get up. You can play now!” Bobby Byrd is a poet and the publisher at Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso. A coroner’s ruling this summer declared that despite small traces of cocaine, Jeep Jackson’s death was caused by a rare heart defect. So the city got down on its knees and mourned. Jeep Jackson had been its favorite, the “heart” of the University of Texas at El Paso basketball team, the Miners, who had just completed the season with 25 victories, a fifth consecutive Western Athletic Conference Championship, and an impressive showing in the NCAA tournament. “The best team in Texas,” writers bragged. Jeep had been an All-WAC player, the team’s leader, a 100 percent hustler, a man who hated to lose, but whose smile reflected the childlike joy in just being able to play. During all the hoopla about Jeep’s death, people began to hope that his death was not related to drugs. Everybody wanted this to be a clean death, not like the Len Bias case that shook the nation only a year earlier. But the coroner found traces of cocaine in the athlete’s body, although he could not definitely state that the drug was the primary cause of death. The communal sadness began to unravel. Within days the police picked up a 19-year-old girl, a friend of Jeep’s, and arrested her for deceased. The presiding judge set bail at one-half million dollars. Some began to wonder if a witch hunt had begun. Then my little boy Andy, a fifth-grader, told me the kids at school were making jokes about Jeep, jokes that made him sad. He remembered seeing Jeep on television, taking control of the team and the game. He wanted to be like him. He didn’t like the jokes, he said. You just got to ignore them, I told him. But my son’s story made me realize that Jeep’s death had become an issue in my own life. It revealed something about me, my own obsession with sports, especially basketball. Every Tuesday night, for the last six or seven years, I have been playing roundball with a group of men, all of us in some stage of our middle age. It is a ritual with us, an almost necessary tool for getting from one week to the next, a way to traverse through this stage of biologic passage of our lives. A holy journey. Watching basketball games is an essential by-product of this weekly ritual. How else is a poet supposed to By Bobby Byrd SOCIAL CAUSE CALENDAR NUCLEAR AGE FILMS IN HOUSTON The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston will sponsor Nuclear Reactions, a selection of films concerned with peace in a nuclear world from November 6 through December 13. Please contact Anne Lewis or Hanna times, and admission information. TEXAS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN NEEDS The Texas Alliance for Human Needs business meeting in Austin the weekend of November 14 and 15. “Texas, Taxes and the Future of Human Needs Programs” will include panel discussions and workshops on the issues of tax equity, affordable housing, welfare reform, indigent health care and barriers to participation in the Food Stamp program. Registration fee for the conference is $10 and special conference room rates are available at the Gondolier Hotel, South IH3611. For more information, contact Karen Langley at TAHN, 2520 Longview, Suite OBSERVANCES November 6, 1954 President Eisenhower breaks ground at the first atomic power plant in Denver. November 7, 1978 Voters in Missoula, Montana, establish the nation’s first nuclear-free zone. November 8, 1932 Socialist candidate Norman Thomas wins almost 900,000 votes in the Presidential election. November 9, 1935 John L. Lewis founds Congress of Industrial Organizations. November 10, 1924 – First U.S. gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, founded in Chicago. November 13, 1974 Karen Silkwood dies in auto crash en route to meet New York Times reporter. November 16, 1983 Federal District Judge Jack Tanner orders Washington State to pay female employees their “comparable worth.” November 17, 1973 President Nixon says, “I am not a crook.” CASA MARIANELLA BANQUET Casa Marianella, an Austin emergency shelter for Central American refugees and other homeless people, will hold its Third Annual Fundraising Banquet on November 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Fellowship Hall, First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity, Austin. Admission is $18 per person in advance and $20 at the door; children will be admitted free. Ticket price will be reduced for those who volunteer in advance to help with the banquet. To volunteer, reserve childcare, or COMMUNITY IN AMERICA Former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan will be the keynote speaker November 13 for the Texas Committee for the Humanities conference on “Community in Contemporary America.” Jordan will speak at 7:30 p.m. at the Law School Auditorium, 727 East 26th St. in Austin. Admission is free. The 1987 Symposium in the Humanities will be held the following morning, November 14, and will feature several speakers. For 8585. 22 NOVEMBER 6, 1987
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