When he was in high school, a photo of Ty Jordan went viral on Facebook.
According to several news accounts, Jordan’s team, West Mesquite High, had just lost to Sherman High. A player from the winning team, Gage Smith, knew that Jordan’s mother had stage 4 lung and bone cancer. He tracked Jordan down on the field and asked if they could kneel together in prayer on her behalf.
The photo of the two of them praying together was a subtle reminder to the world that some things matter much more than sports, but that sports also can be a powerful vehicle for good. One moment they were fierce competitors. The next, they were just two young men deeply concerned about the health of a loved one.
That’s an important lesson to remember now in the wake of the unspeakably tragic, apparently accidental shooting death of Jordan on Christmas Day in Denton, Texas. The image of two young men kneeling together — of a shared faith in something eternal, larger and more permanent than life — should bring a measure of comfort in a dark hour.
One minute, he was on the field, running free and carrying the hopes of countless fans with him. The next, he belongs to eternity, together with his mother, who died not long after that prayer on a high school field in Texas.
The death of a 19-year-old strikes hard because of how, from a mortal perspective, it extinguishes so many promises, so much potential and so much energy for life. At the end of the season, after scoring three touchdowns in his final game, he spoke of days to come. “I’m just going to stay hungry, stay humble,” he said. “It just feels great, though. It feels like I made my mom proud, and that’s all I want.”
And yet his death on Christmas Day should be a reminder that his life matters much more than mortals understand, and that the end is not so permanent as it appears.
In one season, Jordan made an unforgettable mark on the University of Utah football program. He was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year. He gained 597 yards rushing and 723 all-purpose yards in a shortened season. But none of that matters nearly as much as who he was as a person, none of it can ease the pain and heartbreak that his family and all who knew him are suffering.
Coach Kyle Whittingham spoke of his “personality and smile” that were “infectious.” The Utah Jazz held a moment of silence before their home opener against Minnesota on Saturday. Utah Gov.-elect Spencer Cox said Jordan had “completely won this Aggie over” and offered prayers for the family. University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said she was “devastated by this heartbreaking news.”
Indeed, people in Utah, Texas and beyond will never fully recover from the loss, just as plaster impressed with a mold will never resume its former shape. Like those two players, embraced in prayer on a field, we hope for comfort, for healing, and for understanding.