By Trinity Velazquez, The Current Sauce Editor in Chief
I cried for hours.
This isn’t real. I’m not reading what I’m reading. This is insane.
You might assume I was crying about a family member dying.
But I wasn’t. I was crying about the death of a person I had never met.
Carley was my friend. She didn’t know it, but she was. I loved her.
Carley McCord wasn’t just any sports journalist. To me, she was THE sports journalist. Watching her on TV after football and basketball games, all I felt was excitement. She worked for Cox Sports Television and ESPN3, and she was an in-game host for the New Orleans Saints.
She graduated Northwestern State University and got her first broadcast job in Cleveland as an in-house reporter for the Browns. CBS Radio Cleveland hired her for a morning show. After two years, she moved back to Baton Rouge to continue her broadcast career in her hometown.
“You know, she graduated from NSU with a Communications degree,” I used to tell my family.
She was living proof that I could be successful. Looking at the news on Dec. 19, 2019, my proof was gone.
I don’t know how long I sat on my bed. Time was frozen. I couldn’t feel anything but shock and sadness.
Turn your phone off. Stop crying. She didn’t even know you existed.
The worst thing about looking up to a famous person is that you get to know her through a screen. You watch her interviews and short segments on camera, but she’s only a spectacle.
Except Carley wasn’t a spectacle. She was a person. I looked up to a real person, a real role model. I looked up to Carley the way some people looked up to Princess Diana. They knew Diana was a real person because of her genuine smile and honest heart. They knew her without having to know her. I saw Carley the same way.
You aren’t family. Her family. Her father-in-law must be somewhere in Atlanta wondering how he can coach.
Carley was on a private plane, with friends. She was going to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta to watch LSU play Oklahoma. Her father-in-law, Steve Ensminger, was LSU’s offensive coordinator. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Lafayette.
But I’m not family. Why does it feel so wrong to cry over someone you don’t know? Why am I crying for someone I don’t know? You shouldn’t be this sad.
But I was. I knew enough about her to know the grief I was feeling was OK. I think she would say that.
Time was frozen, but my house was full of life. My little sisters ran up and down the hallways. My mom made dinner. My dad got ready for the LSU game.
The LSU game where Carley was supposed to be. The game she was on her way to when she died.
I can’t watch it now, I don’t want to.
My dad was in my doorway talking to me, but he was blurry, somehow.
I can’t watch the game. I don’t want to.
Carley would want me to. Carley would want me to take mental notes of plays so I could ask about them in interviews, just like she did.
But I’m not Carley. I’m still learning who I am. I can’t know how to be someone else when I haven’t figured out how to be me.
I’ve never been in the same room with Carley, but I’ve imagined what meeting her would be like. She would be excited when she learns I attend her alma mater. She would jump up and down a little when I tell her that after I graduate, we’ll have the same degree.
I won’t get to see this scenario play out in real life. I won’t get to see Carley on the sidelines after games. I won’t get to see her again.
Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., a clinical counselor in Ohio, writes in Teen Vogue that grief after a celebrity’s death is common because we form personal attachments to celebrities: “Even though we don’t actually know celebs in person, they can still play important roles in our lives.”
Carley did. She proved I could live my dream of being a beloved journalist while working in the city I call home.
If you’re experiencing grief, O’Neill says, it’s important to give yourself space to feel it.
Neeraj Gandotra, MD, chief medical officer at Delphi Behavioral Health Group, tells Teen Vogue that mourning a celebrity is an opportunity to take inventory. He also says talking about grief is essential after experiencing loss.
My loss for Carley is real, and it’s OK. Grieving the death of a person I’ve never met doesn’t make me crazy. It makes me vulnerable, which is also OK.
Carley would want me to be OK.
The first half of the game was ending. I wasn’t paying attention. I was looking at the TV but I didn’t see a single play.
I heard Carley’s voice in my head, loud. “It’s okay, we’ll do better in the second half. We’ll do better later.”
It’s been a year since she died. I find a little comfort in knowing she died before the horrors of 2020. She left the world while families could still gather and the world was OK.
I’ve done better in the second half. I follow sports more closely now. I watch LSU and Saints games. I go to Pelicans games when I’m home. Sometimes the first half flies by, but I do better in the second half.
Carley was THE journalist during my journalism education. From watching her success, I knew the kind of success I wanted.
Now I’m about to start my journalism career. The journalist I want to embody is the person I am meant to be.
“We’ll do better in the second half.”
I’ll do better in the second half.