September 17, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 11  

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Is Price's death newsworthy?

On the DL
David Lee
Sports Editor

Is the death of an elite athlete's sibling worth our time?

Yetunde Price, the eldest sister of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, was shot and killed early Sunday in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, an area renowned for its gang violence. Following an alleged dispute with local residents, Price was shot in the chest. Everything unfolded about a mile from the tennis courts where the Williams sisters were first noticed for their athletic prowess.

Her death is no doubt a tragedy for her friends and family and it could quite possibly affect the performance of both Venus and Serena. But was it really newsworthy? The National Post ran the story on the front page of their sports section. The Globe & Mail ran it on page four of sports.

The shooting of Price was reported in much the same way the death of Michael Jordan's father James was reported in the mid-'90s. In that case though, Jordan was close to his father, who had mentored him through much of his early career. Everyone already knows the tennis fanatic in the Williams family is Mr. Williams and while Yetunde sometimes acted as personal assistant to the sisters, it's doubtful her role rivaled that of James Jordan.

Even if she was a role model and mentor for the sisters, what makes this event newsworthy? If the shooting was reported on the chance the on-court play of either sister is seriously affected, then it seems somewhat premature. A story could've been formed after either sister withdraws from an upcoming tournament or after one plays poorly and leaves the court in tears.

The recent death of Bobby Bonds - the father of Giants superstar Barry Bonds - also received coverage in the sporting press. However, Bobby Bonds had himself been a star athlete in his own era and the coverage of his death did not make the front pages. So why is this case so different?

Perhaps it is sensationalism once again at play in the mass media. The old adage of "If it bleeds, it leads," has crept into the sports pages, as it did with James Jordan and as it most notably did with the entire O.J. Simpson debacle.

Without trying to be too insensitive about the whole issue, would it not be fair to say that if Ken Huckaby's sister was hit by a bus the proverbial heart of the sporting press would not skip a beat? What if Sebastian Janikowski's brother-in-law was killed in a parachuting accident? Clearly, it would be business as usual.

Maybe I could look the other way if it was a dry time for professional sports. Far from it however - the scandal surrounding the Oscar De La Hoya fight alone would be enough to write about, not to mention Jamal Lewis breaking the single-game record for rushing yards. Even the upcoming hockey and basketball seasons would be a good substitute.

How will the death of Yetunde Price affect the Williams sisters, tennis and sports in general? Only time will tell. For now, we're left with a crime-sports story hybrid that is focused heavily on the former while largely ignoring the effect on the latter.



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