Still looking for someone to inspire   

Updated: February 14, 2008, 1:49 PM ET

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CHICAGO -- It happens all the time. You know the drill: Athlete arrested … involved in incident at nightclub … details of the investigation are pending … evidence found suggests …

At this point, we should be immune to anything new that happens to anyone. Nothing should affect us. We should be devoid of feeling. No sympathy, even less empathy. Gone is any sentiment of compassion or emotion. Ice water becomes DNA. If you all are stupid enough to still get caught up in some nonsense, so be it. It's on you. World speak.

Stefhon Hannah

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, file

Not only did Stefhon Hannah let himself down, but he let down the youths back home who look up to him.

But how do you desensitize yourself when the incident hits home? Not just your home, but the homes of those where you live. The homes and hood of those whose hopes and dreams were riding on the future of the one who still has the fresh rings 'round his wrists from handcuffs, whose fingers are still black from fingerprinting.

In this age of Vicks and stones that break bones and hearts, how are we supposed to turn away from the seed when it is planted right outside our doorstep?

    Oh, I am hurt to death, my Love
    The shafts of Fate have pierced my striving heart,
    And I am sick and weary of
    The endless pain and smart.
    My soul is weary of the strife,
    And chafes at life, and chafes at life.

    -- "One Life" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

When I got the call from Kansas City that Missouri point guard and Chicago native Stefhon Hannah was "involved in something," my soul got weak. Not necessarily for him, but for all of those I knew who were using him as their inspiration. Where I'm from, Stefhon is the new hero. The latest in a line of ballplayers who was beginning to pave his road out of a step-above-the-poverty-line life that often separates the hood from the ghetto.

Hannah was leading the Tigers in scoring for the second straight season when the news reached home that he had allegedly assaulted a man during an altercation at a nightclub. The news reached us as if he was an innocent bystander in something that had nothing to do with him, and the hit that broke his jaw and would eventually end his college basketball career (Hannah was thrown off the team Tuesday by coach Mike Anderson, who cited Hannah's "lack of academic commitment") was meant for someone else.

Man, Stef was just sitting at the restaurant next to the club when it happened, is how it came back home. He'nt do nothin'.

But then slowly, a different story began to travel, finding its way home even after Hannah had come back to visit and left. There's so much more texture, so much more detail, complexion and complication, so much more … to this story.

And the story hurts. Not those involved in the story, but those who hope the story is not true. The colorlessness that overtakes their faces, the glaze that coats their 12-, 13- and 15-year-old eyes, the short syllables that become their conversations. The story that another one of their heroes might be about to fall does something to the soul of a community that can never be told or expressed in a medium outside of life itself.

'Cause where I'm from, Hannah is just the latest. The line is long, with no end in sight in either direction. Last month, it was Will Bynum, a legend with the stature of Omar, who left for Arizona and ended up at Georgia Tech "bringin' that Chi to the NCAA like it ain't seen before." News from Tel Aviv where he plays for Maccabi came home that he and his brother, while out celebrating Bynum's birthday at a club, got into a "scuffle" and that Bynum ran over a man with his car and fled the scene.

By the time the news made it home, Thrill (Will's nickname) was in jail for attempted murder. But the story, once it finally reached home, wasn't so severe: There was a fight, and a man did get run over by Bynum's car while he was driving. But Bynum maintains it was unintentional and he was unaware he hit someone. He was just trying to get out of a bad situation. He's no longer being charged with attempted murder, though he could still be charged with causing grievous bodily harm. But the more surprising story was that, apparently, he was about to be cut from Maccabi before the incident even happened.

Stefhon Hannah

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson

Hannah led Mizzou in scoring two years running, but now he faces an uphill battle to reach the NBA.

The story that no one wanted to swallow was that Will Bynum's NBA career was over, over before it ever began. It's like purple and black ribbons are hanging over the gateway into the hood. Sadness. Despair. Disappointment. The only thing missing is a Sun-Times scripture reading, "The Thrill is gone."

Before that, there was Pierre Pierce, who left the suburbs of the city a few years ago for Iowa with the neighborhood's hopes of a first-round pick, a David Stern handshake and a guaranteed contract. Kids who followed the game -- not just those who knew the game -- wanted to be him.

His game was cold as dry ice. We knew, everyone knew, he was the One. Then the e-mail surfaced: "i thought for sure you would come back out but you didnt' so that made me go ballistic like never before, i luv you with every ounce of blood in my body …" Then the police report came and charges were filed. It was the second time since he'd left home. The first was a third-degree charge of sexual abuse that was plea bargained to a lesser crime. We were warned. He ultimately pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, a felony, and misdemeanor charges of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, false imprisonment and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Then the sentence: prison.

Before that, there was Paul McPherson. He was the one who broke through, got a shot, sipped the juice. His legend reached heights of "immobilarity" with traces of immortality. Ask any kid on any playground or in any rec center what was missing from P-Mac's game when he played and they'd always say, "a cape." He was Green Lantern in basketball's Justice League. Played for the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors before he decided his street life was more important than his NBA dream. Bad decisions, including weed and workouts, were his demise. Now all eyes are dim when they speak of him. Another one of their dreams -- not his, because he's comfortable with the way his life turned out -- killed. And every search for the next one turns up the same. The colorless rainbow. And we wonder why the sky where we live is always gray.

And every time I get run up on for answers. Because they know we all share the same hopefulness in this. So when the story leaves my mouth and finds their hearts, it's too often becoming very unbeautiful.

Last Friday, Hannah was arrested, charged with third-degree assault when he returned to the University of Missouri campus. He gave no statement, was released upon his signature. He remains suspended from the team indefinitely. Personal future in doubt, basketball future in memoriam.

By the time I reach the neighborhood YMCA, across the street from where Hannah was our neighborhood Derrick Rose before Derrick Rose, the dependence had already begun to fade. Scoop, what's going to happen to Stefhon? Have you talked to him? He messed up, didn't he? Is he still going to make it to the League?

Sometimes your heart doesn't have the heart to tell kids who you care about -- and who are relying on you to give them accurate information about their heroes -- things they don't need to hear. But false hope is worse where we live then any lie that can be told.

"I don't know what's going to happen with Stefhon," is what I tell them. "I have talked to him. Yes, he did mess up. Yes, he still has a chance to make it to the League, but it's not looking good. … Still, I have faith in him. So should you. We can't ever give up on us."

I go on to preach about how this can't be them after years of telling them Hannah could be them if they worked hard and handled their business. But the brutal reality is that at some point reality gets real. And it's at that point where the ambition and aspiration of a community begin to break. The perpetual encounters of the fourth, fifth and sixth time on one generation are taking a toll on a generation of kids whose options of whom they can be like are often reduced to those they know or those we make superstars in the hood. Everyone can't be Obama. The kids where I'm from are starting to fold. They need a stretch when their American idols don't fall so fast. They need time to breathe. They need time to believe.

Stefhon Hannah might have been their last straw. But not their last hope.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar calls it "One Life." Kool G Rap calls it the "Ill Street Blues." It's all the same.

But these two stanzas of "One Life" tell both sides of the story. One from the victim, the other from the victims. And it's the anhedonia-filled words of the one who breaks our hearts that speak the loudest. It is he to whom we must listen if we all are to understand.

    Let the others labor as they may,
    I'll sing and sigh alone, and write my line.
    Their fate is theirs, or grave or gay,
    And mine shall be mine.
    I know the world holds joy and glee,
    But not for me, --'t is not for me.

Yet it is still he who must lead. Stefhon … stand up.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2.


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