RIP Richard Jewell

RIP Deputy Jewell:

I was around Atlanta a lot in 1996, so I got to enjoy the full flavor of the Olympics. The relentless construction that made the highways impassable for a year, the constant flow of Olympic Committee people who came and were wined and dined in the city, the unsubstantiated claims that IOC members were heavily bribed by the city, the huge police and security presence, and so forth. I did get to attend an exhibition field hockey match between India and Pakistan (in those heady 1990s days, we were all rooting for Pakistan). If you've never been, field hockey is much like ice hockey, but much less exciting.

One of the things I remember was the Olympic Park bombing, and the tragedy of Richard Jewell. The guy spotted a package that shouldn't be where it was, evacuated the area, and thereby saved the lives of those folks who were nearby.

He then became a suspect in the bombing, and was eaten alive by the media. The FBI cleared him of involvement, but not before his reputation had been slandered up, down and sideways. We heard how he had tried to become a cop, and been turned down. We heard that he had maybe been accused of showing fake police IDs around. We heard speculation that he was a failed, crazy freak who wanted to be a cop to abuse power and swagger around, and might be taking it out on the little people that his life was a failure.

Turned out, of course, he was a guy who had tried to be a cop, and got turned down -- so he became a security guard, did his job, and saved some lives. He was an example of someone who felt a duty and did it, however he could, in spite of the handicaps that life threw in his way. That may not be heroism, but it is honest and manful.

I hadn't heard of the guy since 1996, but I was surprised to hear that he had died, being still somewhat young. I am delighted to hear that he spent his last years as a deputy sheriff. Neither the handicaps in his way nor his false handling by the media finally stopped him from being what he had always wanted to be.

Apparently the governor held a ceremony for him in 2006, on the tenth anniversary of the bombing. He had some kind words to say for the man, but Jewell was not one to self-aggrandize. "I never sought to be a hero," he said. "I have always viewed myself as just one of the many trained professionals who simply did his or her job that tragic night. I wish I could have done more."

Many will live and die without doing as much.

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