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Mike Preston: Reality sets in for sports world after Tray Walker's death

Rookie cornerback Tray Walker talks with news media after the first day of rookie camp at Under Armour Performance Center.
Rookie cornerback Tray Walker talks with news media after the first day of rookie camp at Under Armour Performance Center.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

There are times when sports don't allow us to escape reality, and one of those happened Thursday night.

That's when Ravens cornerback Tray Walker was involved in a dirt bike accident. He died at 5 p.m. today in a Miami hospital.

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Reality had set in.

No one cared about how the Ravens finished 5-11 last season, or which free agent or draft pick they are going to select. A sport is now on hold because these moments and situations are a time for reflection. Walker's death shows us how fragile and short life can be.

It's not that these dirt bike accidents don't happen often. But Walker's accident catches our attention because he was only 23 and a pro football player. He was a fourth-round pick by the Ravens out of Texas Southern last year who played in just eight games, mostly on special teams.

But that doesn't make a difference. He had potential and was playing the game that he loved. His whole life was still before him.

There are numerous tweets and comments on chat boards criticizing Walker for not wearing a helmet and dressing in dark clothing while riding at night.

Maybe some of it is valid, but this is not the time for those criticisms or to preach. As a high school coach and a person who often works with young men, I see the ugly results of poor decision making all the time.

And a lot of times, it has nothing to do with social-economics or parenting, but just youth and lack of wisdom. Young males, especially those under 28, believe they are invincible. They think nothing ever happens to them, just everyone else.

Personally, men don't start getting smart until they are 35, but the objective is to get them at least to 28, long enough for them to start thinking sensibly.

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I didn't know Walker well. He was just one of a myriad of faces who walks by at The Castle and goes in and out of the locker room. I couldn't tell you if he was in the team's plans to be the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback, of if he would get cut in training camp.

But when I first heard the news Thursday night, I didn't care about his NFL career. I felt bad for his family, friends and teammates. I thought about how those close to him who would never see him again.

To be honest, there were times when I wondered how this could happen to Walker, a Raven, a guy with so much athletic talent who was just beginning to make money. How could he be so resistant and stubborn as to ride a dirt bike without the proper attire and equipment at night?

And then reality set in.

Often sports is the great escape mechanism. It allows us to get away from the stress of aging parents or a tough work load. On Sunday afternoons, we go to our stadiums to cheer our favorite teams because it is three to four hours of good, quality get-away time.

But there was nothing to cheer about Thursday night. Walker had been a Raven for a short while, but he turned into another young man, even my own son at times.

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I put away his stature and how many zeros are after his name in his paycheck. And I kept thinking about how he was really no different than most people his age, and how they are prone to make big mistakes.

And then I prayed for him and his family.

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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