Will Matt James' Death Change Anything?
We learned nothing.
According to toxicology reports released by a University of Florida lab, James, who died on April 2nd after falling from the 5th-floor balcony of a Panama City, Fla., hotel, had a blood-alcohol content (or BAC) of 0.19. The legal limit in Florida and many other states is .08. James, an offensive tackle who would have enrolled in classes next month and quite possibly been a starter for Notre Dame's September 4 season-opener against Purdue, had imbibed nearly 2 1/2 times the legal limit of intoxication when he fell to his death. No other drugs were found in his system.
James' death is a tragedy, and a preventable one, but that hardly means an appreciably fewer number of teens -- or adults -- will get hammered this weekend. These are the (Coors Light) cold hard facts: To be 17 years old is to reassure your parents, "I'll be fine." And to have survived being 17 is to realize how completely full of b.s. you were at the time you made that promise.
Turn it loose!
The senior at Saint Xavier High School died on a Friday evening while many of his immediate family and relatives were hosting a 50th birthday party for his uncle back home in Cincinnati. One week later, those same family members were attending his wake on what would have been James' 18th birthday. The juxtaposition of those dates, or the fact that a Catholic school kid headed off to one of the nation's foremost Catholic universities died on Good Friday, is unflinchingly cruel.
How many beers did James drink that Friday? Nobody knows. But James, one of approximately 40 St. X students (accompanied by six parents) on the trip, likely was not drinking alone. Given James' size and the BAC, a conservative estimate is that he imbibed more than ten beers but fewer than the forty-one that NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor would claim, less than three weeks later, that he sucked down on the day that he was drafted.
Say "Beirut" to anyone under the age of 30 and they'll think of a drinking game before they think of Lebanon. Beer Pong. Flip Cup. Quarters. Decades ago, Schaefer beer's clever slogan was "The one beer to have when you're having more than one." After all, when are you not having more than one? Especially when you're young -- and by young I mean breathing.
Young people drink. Old people drink, too, though usually not as recklessly. I had two beers tonight between the time I was informed of James' toxicology results and the time I sat down to type this. Can you drink responsibly? Maybe past a certain age, after you've survived a few debauched escapades, or spent half the night hugging the rim of your toilet bowl as you repeatedly vow to yourself, "Never again," a certain awareness of when to shut it down becomes ingrained.
But when you're 17? And on spring break? That survival instinct has yet to emerge. You haven't suffered enough yet. You have yet to have earned a healthy respect for alcohol.
This video, shot just two weeks after James' death at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in southern California, has already received nearly 2.7 million views. And, sure, it would not have received one-tenth that number of hits if we did not find it funny, but that's only because of the disparity in consequences. The incapacitation of this frustrated flip-flop owner and that of James at the moment he lost his balance may be very similar.
James was a first-team selection on USA Today's All-USA team. A last-minute commit to the Fighting Irish (Ohio State seemed to have the inside track on him), James was a teammate of quarterback Luke Massa, who also accepted a scholarship offer to Notre Dame. Who also was on that trip to Panama City. Massa, in fact, was with James when he fell and odds are that Notre Dame's sports information department is dealing with how they will inform the media that Massa will not be discussing the incident any time soon. If ever.
"Luke is devastated," Massa's father, Gary, told reporters only hours after James' death. "He lost one of his best friends."
I have no idea what Luke Massa's personal alcohol policy will be when he enrolls at Notre Dame. Or that of any of his classmates. Or whether James' death will in any way impact their drinking habits in college. I do know that the quarterback who just left Notre Dame and was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft was once busted for attempting to buy beer and was later photographed (along with three teammates) participating in an event called the "Beer Olympics".
And when this quarterback's coach, himself a former underage Notre Dame student who himself had a Falstaffian rep as an undergrad, was asked about it, he said, "I think it's important that I don't condone underage drinking. I think that's important to say. But that being said and no sarcastic moment really meant to be, but give me a break. Let's move on."
Most -- though not all -- of us who have been to college have gotten wasted. We were just lucky enough to have suffered nothing worse than a hangover and maybe some embarrassing photos. I graduated from the same school James was about to attend, with stellar grades, and yet there are some photos of my drunken self that, well, I'm glad that Facebook was not around then.
And I'm lucky, damn lucky, that the worst I ever got from any of it was a chipped tooth. You've got similar stories yourself, I'm sure.
Matt James was underage and irresponsible and for that he paid the ultimate price. If you're reading this sentence right now, chances are that at some point you were probably underage and over-served yourself. And, like me, you were just lucky.
Turn it loose!
But drink responsibly.