STARKVILLE – I’ve become a bit too familiar with death lately. My grandfather died last August. A dear uncle passed away last month.
Back in February, I was told by a doctor I was “blessed” to be alive after a car wreck and ensuing blood clot.
This isn’t about me, of course, but I thought you should know where I’m coming from on this. And where I’m coming from is a place where I feel I can empathize – to a degree – with those close to Nick Bell, the Mississippi State player who died Tuesday from skin cancer.
This is not a subject that you normally have to deal with on a college beat. I’m covering young men in their physical primes, their futures wide open before them.
Less than two months ago, the 20-year-old Bell was a key part of MSU’s defensive line, rotating at the right end spot, making tackles and making an impact.
Then a mass was discovered in his head, and was removed, and was diagnosed as a form of skin cancer.
Less than two weeks ago, a post-operative Bell was standing on the sidelines of Davis Wade Stadium cheering on his teammates against UAB. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end looked like his normal self, sporting his No. 36 jersey and wearing a camouflage cap. He went through the pregame Dawg Walk with the team, fans cheering for him as much as for his teammates.
At that time, there was hope among his physicians that he might someday return to the field as a player, to return to life as just another normal kid.
Then, about a week after his trip to Starkville, Bell went downhill in a hurry as the cancer spread throughout his otherwise healthy body.
A situation like this, we’re told, is supposed to put the game of football in perspective. It’s just a game, right?
Well, it does put football in perspective for me, but in a different way.
It’s not just a game. It’s something that connects people across socioeconomic, racial and political lines. There were elections all over the place Tuesday, but the MSU family was mostly concerned with Bell and his family, and that’s because of football.
If Bell wasn’t a football player, would you know who he was? Would you care as much that he was going through this? Would there be a nationwide outpouring of sympathy and prayers?
Football gave Bell friendships and a big family he otherwise wouldn’t have had. His teammates, his coaches, his classmates – those are relationships that transcend the game of football while at the same time being inextricably tied to it.
Nick Bell gave a lot to football, and now, football is giving back to his family and to his memory. MSU is setting up a memorial fund for his family; you can visit mstateathletics.com for more information, or you can make a donation by calling (662) 325-3074.
You can bet Bell will be on the hearts and minds of his teammates and coaches every day at practice, as well as when they return to the field Nov. 13 at Alabama, and every game thereafter.
Maybe they’re just games, but they won’t be just games. They’ll be tributes.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal