“Ghost” is proud.
He’s proud of the kids who go to his old high school as they challenge adults who love the guns that killed their classmates. He’s proud of his generation as it tries to hold accountable politicians who seem to have forsaken them.
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere spent his freshman and sophomore years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. On Valentine’s Day, a 19-year-old former student took a semi-automatic rifle to Stoneman Douglas and murdered 17 people, including a football coach Gostisbehere knew.
On Wednesday, eight days after the massacre, Ghost marveled at the courage and the character of the survivors as they cried out for stricter gun control measures.
Some had organized events and they publicly grieved on Twitter.
I’m so proud of my friends who are going to Tallahassee today to speak to the capital. Unfortunately I can not go due to funeral arrangements. But there’s no doubt in my mind that my friends will make us proud ❤️ #NEVERAGAIN
— Kyra (@longlivekcx) February 20, 2018
Some had traveled to the state capitol to demonstrate before an unresponsive governor and state legislators. Some were scheduled to challenge an NRA spokeswoman and Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, in a CNN town hall Wednesday night.
“I’ve obviously seen little bits and pieces of it. It’s very close to home,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s cool to see kids taking a stand.”
He had just finished a 20-minute practice, followed by a goofy YouTube shoot. He was in a buoyant mood. At the beginning of the conversation, he spoke enthusiastically about the Flyers’ new sports science facilities, as he removed his jersey and mopped his brow.
When the subject of the school shooting came up, he stopped undressing. He just stopped. He sat there in his skates and his pads, and he dripped sadness.
“Obviously, something needs to change,” he said. “Soon.”
He’s 24, a grown man with a beard, but in that moment he looked like a kid himself. He looked like a stunned, exhausted kid — a kid who, because of the latest deadly shooting spree, had been forced to educate himself about America’s epidemic of mass shootings and the weaponry that makes the killers so efficient.
“Gun safety and whatnot has been an issue before,” Gostisbehere said, “but especially now, especially pertaining to me, and seeing a shooting at my old high school – I’m more in-depth, more attuned to seeing what gun laws are and what you could do to prevent horrendous things like that.”
He offered no concrete ideas.
“I’m not an expert on this,” he said. “Something needs to change. Something should happen.”
What should happen, of course, is mind-numbingly simple — fewer lethal guns, better background checks, more secure schools, better mental health care. And so Ghost, like most people his age, clearly is mystified at how the most amazing country in the history of the world has come to this sorry, stupid pass.
It’s perfectly fine that Gostisbehere didn’t offer an answer to the problem. Activism and ideas should not be required from anyone. We govern ourselves, but we all have areas of interest and expertise.
For example, Ghost is big into animals. He’s not big into weaponry.
“I don’t care too much for guns. I don’t have a gun. I don’t hunt. I don’t think I could take a living animal’s life,” he said. “That’s just not me.”
It is a gruesome and strange coincidence that two of Philadelphia’s top athletes have hometown connections with two of the more disturbing recent incidents that reflect our fractured and violent society, but that’s the reality.
Chris Long is from Charlottesville, Va, where he played high school and college football. He was outspoken and specific in his criticisms after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 left one counter-protester dead and dozens injured when a protester allegedly drove his car into a crowd.
Long is 32. He has long been an active political and social commenter, especially on Twitter. He defended his city and blasted the Trump administration for creating an environment in which something like Charlottesville could happen.
Gostisbehere is 24. He tweets about his dogs and hockey. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less disturbed than Long is at what happened back home. It doesn’t mean he’s any less alarmed at the surge in mass shootings in the United States.
Three days before the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the Flyers played in Las Vegas. Soon after leaving the airport, the team bus passed Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, where, on Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers, killing 58 and shooting another 422.
“When we were driving in, the first hotel we saw was Mandalay Bay,” Gostisbehere said. “I know it resonated with me, to see that.”
What resonates now?
The vigils? The kids’ inspiring speeches?
The people who ran laps around Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Tuesday to honor the slain cross-country coach? The spontaneous walkout Tuesday of more than 1,000 kids at West Boca High, many of whom then went to Stoneman Douglas to honor the dead?
Students at West Boca High School in Florida stage a walkout protest against gun violence and march seven miles to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. https://t.co/Ssg13fbCT8 pic.twitter.com/WIr7eb74cX
— ABC News (@ABC) February 20, 2018
All of it, to an extent.
What really hit him was the guy with the crosses.
Greg Zanis is a master carpenter from Illinois who started Crosses for Losses after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, in which two students killed 12 other students and one teacher. That happened April 20, 1999. Since then, Zanis has made a white cross for each dead victim and delivered the crosses to the site of the latest bloodbath.
“This man, he dropped off 17 crosses at Marjory Stoneman. Seventeen,” Gostibehere said, more quietly now. “He’s done it for these past shootings, too.”
Then he bent over and unlaced his skates. He’d talked enough.
Shayne Gostisbehere turned 6 on April 20, 1999.