We got official word yesterday that, in all likelihood, Jose Fernandez was driving the boat that killed him and two of his friends last September. We also got official word that Fernandez was drunk and had cocaine in his system. It was a sad coda to an already sad story.
It was also the inspiration for some to weigh in with some moral indignation. Here’s Bob Klapisch:
New details of Jose Fernandez’s horrific boating accident sent shockwaves throughout the major league community, which has grieved over the Marlins star as a latter-day James Dean: died too young, gone too soon.
But all that changes now. Investigators have determined Fernandez was behind the wheel, drunk and with cocaine in his system, at the moment of impact. The right-hander goes from the being the victim of a tragedy to the one who caused it — ending his own life and those of the two others in the boat.
Nice guy that he was, regardless of his popularity, it’s no longer possible to see Fernandez in a sympathetic light.
I’m not going to defend drunk driving or driving under the influence of cocaine. Not for a second. But it’s probably worth noting that this is not shocking new information. We knew last October that Fernandez was drunk and had cocaine in his system. Indeed, all three men in that boat were drunk and two of them had used cocaine. We did not know who was driving, but we knew it was Fernandez’s boat and that, earlier, before picking up his friends, he had been driving it alone. Him being behind the wheel was always the most likely situation. It was the safest assumption.
I’m also not going to get too deep into the weeds policing Klapisch’s or anyone else’s takes when it comes to Fernandez. They feel how they feel. I will offer, however, that Fernandez is now nearly six months dead and that for people who knew and loved him — or, people like us, who merely admired his talent — his loss is made no greater or worse by virtue of its circumstances. Klapisch’s whole angle is that, after the outpouring of grief in Miami last fall, “you wonder how the Marlins feel today,” suggesting that they . . . still don’t grieve? That they wouldn’t have grieved at the time if they knew Fernandez was driving?
If that’s the claim, it’s a dubious one. Ask anyone who has lost someone under similar circumstances. The situation may become more complicated and there may be some anger and disappointment mixed in with the sadness, but the grief is not diminished and for most the idea of judging the dead — Klapisch’s headline literally damns Fernandez’s legacy — is not on the radar. As for “no longer seeing him in a sympathetic light,” I have to ask: did we only feel sympathy for him because we thought, for some reason, that someone else was driving? I’m not sure that tracks at all.
But even if that and a thousand other complicated emotions are felt by Fernandez’s friends and loved ones, that’s their call to make. Not mine or yours or some New Jersey columnist’s. Especially not some New Jersey columnist who has made a cottage industry out of leveling moral judgments on people he only knows professionally. He spent years excoriating one in stark, moral terms and then, later, decided that it was OK to stop doing so. What changed? The need for a fresh take seemed to be the most obvious candidate. Which is fine for A-Rod, I suppose. He’s alive and kicking and can handle it. It’s pretty unseemly for a dead man. This seems like opportunism more than anything.
People will judge. They always have and always will, especially when drugs and alcohol and irresponsible behavior is involved. But in this case, with Fernandez in the ground for half a year and nothing bringing him back, I’m not sure what it accomplishes.