As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Tyler Skaggs died on Monday. He was just a week or so away from his 28th birthday. The authorities have yet to identify a cause of death, though they have ruled out foul play and suicide. A lot has already been written about Skaggs’ life, career, and impact on others, so I won’t reiterate that here (see yesterday’s post by RIP Baseball, for example, which was a really nice tribute).
As the Angels play clear across the country, I really don’t follow them and knew very little about Skaggs. Nonetheless, as a baseball fan I was saddended by the news of his death, like other fans. As a sociologist, I wondered why that was.
Baseball fans are a community – we share a love for the game and an admiration of those who play. The players represent ourselves and our cities. Thus, is natural that we feel a connection to the larger baseball community at a time of tragedy or deep sadness. Even if Skaggs didn’t pitch for your favorite team, the impact was felt by your team and your community. And, thus, by you.
As a society, we are afraid death and of the unknown. When death comes “too soon” and takes away someone with a promising future, we fail to understand how such an injustice could happen. Our hearts ache for Skaggs’ family and we can barely fathom what his young wife must be going through. Often, thoughts turn to our own lives and families. And that’s ok.
Because death is a taboo subject in society, we often do not have ways to cope with our emotions surrounding death – perhaps even more so when we are not in the person’s inner circle. Grieving for celebrities and athletes, seeking out information on what happened, and reading the many tributes and memorials is natural. It helps us connect with our own feelings and the larger community. It proves we are human and capable of empathy.
As part of the larger baseball community, we, the fans, share in the grief over the loss of a member of our community. We may not have known Tyler, but we understand what he meant to those who knew him personally, played with him, and were his fans. We share your sadness and support you in your time of loss.
Rest in peace, Tyler. You will be missed – by many.
Deborah Carr, “3 Reasons We Mourn Celebrity Deaths: The benefits of sharing emotions communally,” Psychology Today, January 19, 2016, accessed at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bouncing-back/201601/3-reasons-we-mourn-celebrity-deaths.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “When death goes viral: mourning celebrities on social media,” The Guardian, August 21, 2014, accessed at https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/aug/21/robin-williams-mourning-death-celebrities-social-media-viral.
Katherine Ellen Foley, “Feeling grief is a totally reaction to a celebrity death,” Quartz.com, June 8, 2018, accessed at: https://qz.com/1301069/when-celebrities-die-its-normal-to-feel-personal-grief/
Monica Hesse, “Tweet it and weep? Online, grief over dead celebrities is about us,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2012, accessed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/social-mourning-tweets-are-less-about-dead-celebrities-than-they-are-about-us/2012/05/24/gJQABtFFoU_story.html?utm_term=.6ed91c307902.
Lindsey Holmes, “Here’s Why Celebrity Deaths Can Feel So Personal,” Huffington Post, June 5, 2018, accessed at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mourning-prince-why-we-grieve-celebrity-deaths-grief_n_57190ba4e4b0d4d3f722974a.
Tony Walter, “Viewpoint: Sociology of Mortality – Existential or Pragmatic?” February 6, 2018, accessed at https://discoversociety.org/2018/02/06/viewpoint-sociology-of-mortality-existential-or-pragmatic/.