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Years ago, a debate sprung from the editorial offices of the Washington City Paper. Here’s the backdrop: We were writing about a 40-something musician or artist who died when his car got T-boned in a terrible accident. A draft of the story called this event a “tragedy.” A since-departed editor said no, that’s not a tragedy. Do you know what a tragedy actually is?, he inveighed. He said that his English professor preached that a tragedy is when a great, great man dies an early death.
In addition to being a song by the Bee Gees, “Tragedy” is defined as a “calamity: an event resulting in great loss and misfortune….”
So perhaps news outlets should exercise a bit of caution in using the word. Particularly sports writers, who are always trying to amp up the drama in their copy, even stories that don’t involve the Olympics.
This past weekend, I was reading Mark Maske‘s piece in the Washington Post about Green Bay Packers executive Mark Murphy. A former Redskin, Murphy was the guy who negotiated the team’s traumatic separation from Brett Favre. Here’s Maske’s bar for tragedy:
For Murphy, the Favre saga played out at a time of personal tragedy. His father Hugh died in mid-July in Clearwater, Fla., at 83, only about 3 1/2 months after having brain cancer diagnosed. Hugh Murphy had a long career in labor relations and had continued to work as a mediator in Florida until about a year before his death.
Is that really a tragedy, or is that just life?