JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

The Sadness of King George

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I’ve been paying much attention to today’s coverage of George Steinbrenner’s death. It’s a fascinating thing, how the media responds to someone’s passing. When I was a young writer at The Tennessean, I wrote an obituary for Mooney Lynn, Loretta Lynn’s husband … weeks before he actually ceased breathing. Along those lines, I can assure you the New York Times, the Daily News, the Post, the AP all had Steinbrenner tributes penned up and ready to go. It’s how the industry works.

Earlier today I received an e-mail from an editor friend at CNN’s website, wondering if I had any people who’d be good for Steinbrenner memories. I passed along a handful of numbers—Cliff Johnson, Brian Fisher, Fay Vincent, Marty Appel. The same exact thing was happening all over America; news agencies scratching and clawing for something on Steinbrenner that nobody else found.

But here’s the thing: In all the whirl and swirl of post-death coverage, how many of us actually stop and think of the actuality at hand? That George Steinbrenner no longer exists. Very literally, he is no longer a human being. No longer breathes. No longer thinks. No longer eats, showers, walks, smells, shouts, cries. He is nothing. Nothingness. Gone. Vapor. I’m not writing this to be crass. Just the opposite, actually. His passing—anyone’s passing, this side of serial killers or leaders of genocide—is a tragedy, because it marks the termination of life. We see the video highlights, hear memories from men like Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra and fail to stop to think that, oh my God, George M. Steinbrenner is no longer. He seems alive, because the images never stop. But he isn’t, and never will be again.

Love the man, hate the man, that’s a genuine tragedy.