Writer Rob Trucks interviewed Dave Duerson, three months before he committed suicide, as part of an oral-history project on life challenges at age 50. Deadspin.com, the provocative sports news site, published an excerpt this week. It’s a valuable and timely document that everyone should read: “‘You Have to Accept My Pain,’” http://deadspin.com/#!5767609/you-have-to-accept-my-pain-an-interview-with-dave-duerson-three-months-before-his-suicide.
I have a number of problems with this piece, starting with the title. It took some desperate cutting and pasting to make that line the thesis of the article. Far down in the interview, we finally get to the P-word, rendered thusly:
I do hold myself to a higher standard. I do. But the flip of that is, every one of us has things in their life they regret. For instance, I’m a Trekkie. And it wasn’t the series so much as the movies, the Star Trek movies. I remember a scene from one of the latter ones with William Shatner. This guy, Spock’s cousin or his brother, he could hug you and take away your pain. And he says, “Come join with me, and let me take away your pain.” And Dr. McCoy and everybody else is like, “Jim, you’ve got to do this. It’s wonderful.” And Captain Kirk tells him, “I need my pain, because it defines who I am.” And so in that regard when people come up to me and they tell me, “Man, I wish I were you,” I tell them in the same breath that in order to be me, you have to accept my pain.
I have two reactions to this loopy snippet. One is, “Huh?”
The other is that Duerson’s “pain” turns out to be defined as second-hand kitsch. That’s of a piece with the interview as a whole, which is narcissistic – painfully so. The locutor not only can’t seem to take responsibility for something as simple as being a Star Trek fan. He also can’t take responsibility for having wanted to be a football player, or for his arrest for domestic violence, or for watching late-night TV. We pay no honor to the real accomplishments of Duerson’s life – his National Football League career and his once-prosperous food-supply business, which employed hundreds – by pretending otherwise. A good guess is that brain damage from thousands of athletic blows had taken their toll.
As a reader with four kids himself, let me just say that it is profoundly disturbing for this man either to have had all along, or to have developed, an active fantasy life based on dying at 42. Death wishes are not admirable things, whether issued from jihadism or from the “Die Young, Stay Pretty” wing of rock-and-roll.
In addition, as someone who joined my sister in burying our father and mother, respectively seven and six years ago, I find dreadfully self-pitying the way Duerson dwelled on the deaths of parents in his middle age and their old age. That is the circle of life. Now, parents burying their children, as is happening with a generation of totally pointless casualties in sports and sports entertainment – that’s a different story.
Duerson called his 2005 arrest for beating his wife, which cost him his position as a trustee at his alma mater, Notre Dame, a loss of control “for three seconds.” I don’t know about that. The county prosecutor in Indiana filed two counts of battery and two of domestic battery. The police report said Duerson struck his wife and then shoved her out the door of a motel room so hard that she banged against a wall.
Most of the Twitter chatter has centered on Duerson’s remembrance that Buddy Ryan, his defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, told him, “I don’t like smart niggers.” (Ryan denies it.)
In a similar motif, I got an email yesterday from a journalist who read my interview with Brent Boyd and said that Boyd’s depiction of Duerson’s diverged from the journalist’s own, which is that of a forceful union guy who clashed not only with Ryan but also with the Bears’ head coach, Mike Ditka. Decades later, Ditka is a vocal critic of what the NFL Players Association has failed to do on behalf of disabled ex-players, and the journalist says this is a chapter in a long-running narrative with racial overtones.
My own view is that race is not terribly pertinent to concussion syndrome, except perhaps to the extent African Americans are wildly oversubscribed to the entire sports dream machine. This includes, by the way, the current president of the United States, who upon taking office proclaimed his No. 1 sports priority to be the institution of a college football championship tournament to replace the current “Bowl Championship Series.” Some of the reasons for the racialization of athletics indeed touch on the great open wound of our national experience. But Dave Duerson’s occupational hardships with redneck coaches aren’t very illuminating on the subject of brain trauma in gladiator divertissement. He did fine for himself until about five years ago, when finances, family affairs, and cognitive function all turned sour.
Recognizing that the Deadspin article is only an excerpt, I emailed author Trucks two days ago, asking if the full transcript and/or audio of his conversation with Duerson would be made available. Trucks has not yet responded.