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Honoring Deceased Football Players Is Not Easy

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Should Eastern Michigan retire Demarius Reed's jersey number?

Players touched Reed's jersey before their game against Ohio in 2013.
Players touched Reed's jersey before their game against Ohio in 2013.
Alex Alvarado

Recently, Jeremy Rosenberg from Eagle Totem put out a piece, challenging Heather Lyke and the rest of the athletic department to retire Demarius Reed's uniform number, and putting him onto the Ring of Honor. Al Willman from The Eastern Echo followed suit with an article where he pretty much just said "yeah, what he said."

I'm okay with all of this. However, I won't be joining their train with a challenge to Lyke and others. And it's not out of disrespect. I just don't think retiring #2 would serve Reed and his family the most justice.

After Kristopher Pratt pled guilty and Ed Thomas was found not guilty, there was a salty taste left in everybody's mouth. As I've said before, justice is a fluid concept. But many of us agree that justice wasn't served here. On top of that, there wasn't a whole lot of addressing the media or public of anything that they've done to honor Reed. It's always a big mystery. I asked Lincoln Hansen what they might do, but he said that he didn't know, but something in the program will happen to honor Reed.

Putting Reed on the Ring of Honor would be cool. There's room for his name. Let his name appear atop of the away stands at Rynearson. Let stories be told about how great of a person he was, while having that realization that you never know when your last day is going to be (sorry for the cliche). And maybe even that can be a signal to raise more awareness around campus (everywhere, for that matter) to try to put an end to these senseless murders, ending lives like Reed and Julia Niswender.

The retiring the number part has me shrugging my shoulders. Again, I'm not against it, it's just something that isn't on the top of my wish list.

Once upon a time when black and white photos were the norm and not a selected filter on Instagram, numbers were put on athletic uniforms for easier organization, and for broadcasters to know who's doing what to make their lives a little bit easier.

Over time, numbers have become very personal. I'm not a psychology major, but it makes sense. Around Ypsilanti, it's easy for somebody to see the number 2 and think of Demarius Reed. In New York, people will think of Derek Jeter.

Retiring numbers like these have become sort of a norm. And the most common sports fans will tell you that having your jersey number retired is one of the highest honors one can receive. Arbitrary, but there's definitely some merit to that. I, however, have started to care less about the importance of the players' numbers. That number never truly defines the athlete on a personal level.

When organizations retire numbers, it's almost always because they were fantastic athletes for that team. Others have earned their honors by being great people and great athletes. But that doesn't make those the only reasons why a number is retired. Rutgers football, for example, retired number 52, which last belonged to Eric LeGrand. They've honored a lot of players in their history, but 52 is the only number retired. It was all over a spinal injury that paralyzed LeGrand, thus ending his football career. Which is a very sad story itself, and we remember that luckily, LeGrand is still living.

But still, I thought about Rosenberg's piece, fighting myself with all of these internal conflicts until I realized something that almost all of us are missing here: it's not about me.

I did not know Reed as a person. He was not my friend. When news broke saying that "Deuce" was shot to death, nobody went up to me with their thoughts or prayers or condolences. Because it's not about me. It's about that team. That band of brothers that hung out with one another, shared memories and stories, those are the guys that needed the support.

Burying Reed's jersey underneath where The Factory was going to be put in place is something that was done for the team. That was special.

Clearly, nobody can wear a jersey with an unavailable number, but everybody rallying behind Rosenberg want to have it official, with a press release and possibly a plaque of some sort. And if #2 is publicly retired, then I'll be happy about the decision. If not, I won't be completely frustrated about it.

So however Demarius Reed and Jason Bitsko are honored by their respective athletic departments, they shouldn't have to necessarily fill our needs to be the most meaningful. There are many good ways of handling these issues, but not doing anything will not fill the needs for those that are most affected by these tragedies.