News is delivered with the frequency (and often fury) of a hailstorm these days. I confess to a growing addiction to my Twitter feed. What has happened to change my world since I last checked ... 20 minutes ago? As a sportswriter, the addiction can numb the brain. Innings are played, trades made (or discussed!), free agents signed, and all this during what amounts to the sports world’s slow season of summer. Two weeks ago, I chose to tune things out long enough to visit with family members who’d driven across the country and would spend one full day with my family in Memphis. My penalty for disengaging a few hours: the Twitter-driven explosion of reaction to Austin Nichols leaving the University of Memphis basketball program. #WTH?
But then the photos of Pluto began to arrive. Early last week, images shot 3.7 billion miles from Earth by the New Horizons spacecraft began to fill the Internet. The tiny “dwarf planet” named for the Greek god of the underworld (the Disney character came later, people) became the latest topic of awe for astronomy nerds, students of natural science, and even a few sportswriters. Honestly, I found the standard snark and viral memes out of place this time. Human beings managed to send a device to the very edge of our galaxy, a device that can be controlled — from more than three billion miles away — and take pictures to send us, like that friend who finally checked off the Great Wall of China on his bucket list. “Check out Pluto’s heart! Wish you were here!”
The images stopped me in my news-gathering tracks. You had to relish the coincidence of the photos reaching human eyes during the week of baseball’s All-Star Game, the quietest sports week of the year in the United States. With images of mountain ranges — what?! — on Pluto, I found myself reconsidering the label “all-star.” Pluto may have recently been demoted from planet status by the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, but if it’s not a Milky Way “all-star,” then Pete Rose can’t draw a crowd in Cincinnati.
Then last Thursday, of course, news returned to what we consider normal in 2015 when we learned of the latest rampage by a gun-toting madman, this time across our own state in Chattanooga. My heart heavy for the latest victims, I couldn’t help but wonder about the perspective from Pluto on this kind of behavior. Imagine how tiny our planet is relative to those 3.7 billion miles separating us from NASA’s photo-gathering craft. Yet random slaughter continues to dance across news cycles, however brief we now define them. It would seem there are other rocks in our solar system that could use a large heart shape.
At least we have sports, daily distractions with a dose, now and then, of the inspirational. Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke has apparently decided not to allow a run the rest of the season. Barely able to take a legal drink, Jordan Spieth is making the bitterly cruel game of golf look easy. Unless she takes the wrong cab to Arthur Ashe Stadium in September, Serena Williams should complete the first calendar Grand Slam tennis has seen in 27 years. And to think we have a Triple Crown winner grazing somewhere in Kentucky today. They’re all jaw-dropping achievers. And much needed in a world where hate and bullets steal too many headlines. You’ll have to forgive me, though, if some time passes before I describe another athlete, however brilliant, as “other-worldly.” They may be hard to see, Pluto, but we have big hearts here on Earth, too.