Perception is reality, the saying goes. Modern players can never transcend time, athletes only care about the money and the fan is never wrong. Yet, all you need to do is dig a little deeper to find the truth. As a freelance sportswriter, my job is to give the audience a story around what just happened. As a consumer, I expect that sports will always provide more than I bargained for. As a fan, my hopes are to be enlightened by more than points. Welcome to the mind of a sports scribe.
It's true that people, unfortunately, die every day. It's true that sometimes, there tends to be far more attention paid to the controversial or the easy-one-the-eyes or the unquestioned greats of certain fields. However, those individuals have something within them that gave people in their audiences a shared connection, regardless of race, creed, nationality, gender and anything else that we separate ourselves by.
If you have this unsettled feeling of something in the air with the passings of several public figures in the last month, you are not alone. Another tragic death in the sports world has to prompt the question, "what the hell is going on here?"
Arturo Gatti was the kind of fighter that On Demand and DVRs were invented for. He may have not had the sleek and smooth style as some of his contemporaries. He wasn't as brash and verbally combative as many of his peers believe they must be to survive in the boxing business. Yet, he was a guy that made you pay attention once he went through the ropes.
His come-from-behind win against Wilson Rodriguez turned him into an HBO staple. He was a perennial "Fight of the Year" participant from there on out, long before his epic trilogy with Micky Ward (see below).
Even in his defeats - some more humilating than others - Gatti was as entertaining in the ring as his chin allowed him to be. You have to be fearless and slightly unhinged to be a elite fighter, but there was something within Gatti that set him apart from everyone else in the industry.
It was recently said after Oscar de la Hoya's retirement that the sport of boxing will need another Golden Boy; someone who with the pretty boy looks, world-class talent and familiar heritage to some of the fans (in his case as a Mexican-American) could bring pay-per-view dollars and arena sellouts. Yet, beyond not having the boxer that brings the perfect resume, Gatti's imperfections made him a sorely missed figure when he retired two years ago.
If they weren't before, the powers-that-be in boxing are certainly looking for another Arturo Gatti now.