'We Have to Learn the Value of Life Again' -- On the Deaths of Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26: A general view of Jordan-Hare Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I wasn't around him to know a lot about what he was searching for. Didn't get that chance.--Jacksonville State head coach Jack Crowe, on Ladarious Phillips

Nobody should ever have to endure such unimaginable grief, and we will love and support the victims' families during this terribly difficult time.--Gene Chizik

It's sickening that these young lives were cut short. And also the shooter is such a young man. As a society, we have to learn the value of life again.--Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson

Sunday morning. I'm at my parents' home in Atlanta, in town for a vacation and the birth of my second nephew. And I'm watching Kent State's eventual win against Oregon in the first game of the Eugene Regional, and keeping an eye on Twitter, when the first strands of news begin to appear about what had happened in Auburn hours earlier.

And even now, about twenty-four hours after what was going on became clear, the cognitive dissonance just grows more striking. On the one hand is a story about the best of sports, as I'm on a trip to celebrate the beginning of a new life. And on the other hand is a story about sports and death and a tragedy that defies explanation or purpose.

We don't really know what drove the shooter -- the police have identified their suspect as Desmonte Leonard -- to decide to bring out a gun and shatter countless lives in a burst of gunfire. We know the purported reasons for the confrontation that led to the gunfire, we allegedly know what our criminal justice system and our society have come to call the motive for the crime: A fight over a woman that escalated and the reported efforts of some Auburn players to break up that fight. We know all that -- and yet we don't know anything.

Because whatever caused Desmonte Leonard or whoever else might have fired the shots that night to use a deadly weapon to settle a comparatively minor argument started long before June 9, 2012. It started before the pool party that turned into a massacre. It might even have started before Desmonte Leonard was born.

And that's why the words of Tommy Dawson keep echoing in my head: "As a society, we have to learn the value of life again." When did we forget? How did we begin to lose sight of the fact that, whether you believe it comes from God or by chance or from some other source, life is a precious gift that should never be taken lightly, never be taken with malice, never end at 20 with so many questions unanswered.

That's the other thing that's so striking about the stories of these young men: They were still trying to learn how to navigate the turbulent waters of life. Phillips was obviously wrestling with his decision to transfer to Jacksonville State and what that might mean for his future. Ed Christian, sidelined by an injury, was regaining his love for the game and figuring out what would come next.

But all that ended on Saturday night for no good reason -- because there was no reason good enough for it to end.

And it's tempting to throw all the blame on the person who shot these young men, to say that he is a twisted individual who threw away his own life and the lives of three other people because of a fit of pique and a monstrous lack of understanding and loss of perspective. Because all of that is true.

But that's too easy, because it lets us off the hook. It lets us walk away from the fact that Desmonte Leonard, or someone else if the initial reports are wrong, got the idea from somewhere. It is not a normal human reaction to walk into a pool party, get into an argument over a woman, and open fire. None of that comes naturally to anyone.

We are a society with too many guns. Regardless of what you might think about whether the government has any role in gun control, we have too many guns when one of those weapons ends up in the hands of someone who will use it for the reasons it was used Saturday night.

And we are a society that, as Chief Dawson said Sunday, has lost our respect for human life. There were 14,748 homicides or non-negligent manslaughters in 2010, according to the Department of Justice. That number was done by more than 600 people from 2009, and had fallen for four straight years. We lost almost 15,000 Americans at the hands of other Americans in 2010 -- and you could make the case that it was a sign of progress.

I can't tell you what the answer to that is -- I wish I could, not because I think people come to a sports blog for that sort of insight, but because it would mean I have an answer in the first place. But I know that the answer isn't arresting Desmonte Leonard. Because the statistics tell us that there are thousands of people who will do what he allegedly did, and whose victims will end up just as shattered as those whose lives were changed the moment the shots rang out in Alabama on Saturday night.

And so the tragedies unfold, one right after the other, and we watch on split screens while a scrappy young team from Ohio reminds us about how joyful life can be and a shooting on the other side of the continent reminds us how precious it is.

How did we ever forget?

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