“AT A CROSSROADS” – San Diego Daily Transcript Op-Ed – April 19, 1996
Exactly 1 month after I founded “The Obesity Law & Advocacy Center” on March 1, 1996, MLB umpire John McSherry died tragically on the field during Opening Day. I was very concerned about how the media was reporting this tragedy and attacking people who had obesity to the point that I wrote this Op-Ed piece. I was proud enough of what I wrote to preserve it in a frame, complete with a picture of some younger version of myself. I stumbled upon it as part of ongoing “downsizing” efforts Kelley and I have been engaged in and after reading it . . . for the first time in a very long time, it still felt current and important – maybe especially because were are only a few days away from kicking off Obesity Care Week 2020.
I finished reading what I wrote 24 years ago thinking………
MUCH HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER – WE SHOULD CELEBRATE!
BUT MUCH HAS NOT CHANGED AT ALL – WE MUST DO BETTER!
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
AS FOR US? WE WON’T GIVE UP THE DREAM AND PRAY YOU WON’T EITHER.
Friday, April 19, 1996
San Diego Daily Transcript
Baseball suffered a tragedy on April 1 with the death of John McSherry at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. By all accounts he was a true professional in every sense and a warm, caring and wonderful person. He will be missed greatly by those close to him.
For those of us who did not know John McSherry, his death places an issue, largely ignored, at the forefront of American consciousness. His tragedy puts us at a crossroads as to how a substantial segment of the population will be perceived. The issue is obesity in American society. While it is sad that it often takes such a tragedy to capture our attention (did we really think about domestic violence before OJ?), it is critical that the focus on John McSherry’s death not be misplaced or misdirected.
An autopsy has revealed that John McSherry died of coronary disease caused by arterial blockage, an irregular heartbeat and an enlarged heart. Coronary disease causes or contributes to thousands of deaths every year. But John McSherry also suffered from another disease I both hope and fear you will hear much about during the next few weeks: clinically severe or morbid obesity. He reportedly weighed 328 lbs. at his death, although later reports place the number as high as 380 lbs.
Please note that I call this a disease. There is no other appropriate word. John McSherry did not suffer from a character defect nor did he lack personal discipline. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession clearly demonstrates that this man possessed extraordinary discipline and character.
Obesity is a disease about which we know precious little. Medicine is working diligently, albeit slowly, toward determining its multiple causes and researching possible cures. Medical management and surgical intervention have both proven effective, at least in part, in treating this disease. However, medicine still has a long way to go.
But the rest of us have much further to go. There is no question that discriminating against the obese is the last bastion of acceptable discrimination. I know. I am a recovering obese person, having once weighed 400 lbs. at 5’10”. Surgery has helped me reach and maintain 225 lbs. It is a sad but true commentary on today’s society that I am generally perceived and treated far better now that I’ve lost 160 – 170 lbs. But this is not my story.
The real tragedy which could overshadow the loss of a good man like John McSherry is the misdirected hysteria it may generate. Already ESPN SportsCenter has aired a segment addressing health and condition of major league umpires. Already there have been calls for umpires to be put on a diet or required to exercise. No doubt more such items will flood the airwaves in the media frenzy.
I implore everyone who reads this to thoroughly scrutinize their personal reaction to John McSherry’s death. Remember that he was considered by all of his peers to be an outstanding umpire, repeatedly asked to train others in his profession. In short, he was a great umpire. All of this was accomplished despite his personal battle with morbid obesity. You cannot know how he felt physically and emotionally, in dealing with the stresses of his job. Every day during the season he faced thousands of demanding baseball fans requiring absolute perfection in his performance. He would be routinely jeered, as are all other umpires, if the fans thought he missed a call. But remember: he wasn’t just blind, like the other umps….. he was FAT and blind too. Unless you are obese, you will never appreciate how truly remarkable he was to put up with ridicule above and beyond his normal-weighted peers.
Think long and hard about your feelings when you hear the name John McSherry in the future. There cannot, and must not, be a universal outcry by Major League Baseball, or by any other employer, to demote, suspend, dismiss or otherwise take action against an employee solely based on a fear of what might happen because of someone’s weight. John McSherry’s life and death are diminished in the worst way if we allow this tragedy to degenerate into a witch hunt based on numbers on the scale. John McSherry, and all of us who are suffering from this disease, deserve far better than that as a legacy.
Rather, our societal reaction should be supportive of any obese person seeking and obtaining reasonable and medically necessary treatment of their disease. John McSherry sought such treatment from places as esteemed as Duke University. Sadly for him and us, the treatment modalities utilized, whatever they may have been, did not succeed. But just as we as a society do not condemn a cancer patient for moving from radiation therapy to chemotherapy to surgery and an effort to successfully battle that disease, nor should anyone condemn an obese person for trying every available treatment to beat his or her disease. It is not simply a matter of achieving more or better discipline. Obese people are not flawed; we have an illness, every bit as real as cancer, AIDS or diabetes.
Perhaps most importantly, society must change its attitude toward obesity. We should look down upon any person, organization, or employer or group who discriminates against the person solely on the basis of weight to the same degree and with the same sense of outrage we feel when someone uses the “N” word or who judges people based upon their race, creed, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. Discrimination, no matter what its form or basis, is always despicable. Remember that the next time you tell or hear a fat joke.
Lastly, please let us not remember John McSherry as the fat umpire who died on the field. Instead, let us remember him simply as the man he was: humble, forthright, highly competent with the love of the game and of life. Those qualities, and nothing else, made him a very big man. He will be missed.
Let us not compound the tragedy as we face these crossroads.
Walter Lindstrom, Jr.