Being around J.P. was a constant challenge.
Which, I have no doubts he would take as the ultimate compliment.
I met J.P. 20 years ago when I was the sports editor for The Ohio State University’s college newspaper, The Lantern. J.P. was a sports reporter for me that fall, with the most prestigious of beats — covering the Buckeye football team. And he was good at it. Really good at it. He had a way of looking beyond the obvious and writing the story no one else was even thinking of writing.
J.P. was an outstanding sports writer — clever without being corny, thorough without being boring and passionate while remaining fair.
It wasn’t the only thing he was good at, however … he was also excellent at challenging everything you believed in.
I’ve met few people in my life who enjoyed a good debate as much as J.P. He was a Northeast Ohio kid who lived and breathed to watch his beloved Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavaliers — I would learn only recently he was a bat boy for the Indians in his younger days — and I was a Southwest Ohio kid who supported the Bengals and Reds. We would debate endlessly about sports whenever we were in the newsroom or pressbox together.
As much as J.P. loved sports, however, it was merely one of his many passions — and only one of the things he enjoyed arguing about. He also enjoyed lively debates about politics and music … and truthfully, anything else he thought would get him into a spirited discussion.
Personally, I enjoyed the challenge — mostly because I knew that if I was going to argue something with J.P., I had better be prepared. In addition to being clever and quick-witted, he also was intelligent and well-read. He always had facts to back up his opinions and you weren’t ready to back up your opinions with facts of your own, he was going to verbally cut you to your bones.
All of which is not to say J.P. wasn’t a fun-loving person, as well. Sure, he liked to make his opinions known — and if he disagreed with you on something he cared about deeply, you were going to hear about it — but also was a joy to be around. I never passed up the opportunity to have a drink and watch a game with J.P. when we were off the clock.
I’ll never forget his impish grin and deep chortle when something struck him as amusing. He had a sophisticated sense of humor and was always one of the funniest — if not the funniest — people in the room.
Like so many others, however, I have to believe much of what J.P expressed outwardly was merely a curtain to cover the secret pain he was feeling on the inside.
Last week I learned my friend and former co-worker had taken his own life. Those who knew him far longer — and far better — than I have told me he had been battling anxiety and depression for a number of years. I have to believe that when he lost his beloved mother a few months ago, the pain simply became too much for J.P. and he felt he could not go on any longer.
I only wish J.P. could have got the help and treatment he needed before he made such a tragic decision. While I don’t know the specifics of J.P.’s battle with anxiety and depression, I do know there are millions out there who fight many of those same battles without seeking medical help — in large part because of the stigma society attached to those with mental illness.
How many more people as amazing and wonderful as J.P. do we have to lose before we finally eradicate the idea that people battling depression and other forms of mental illness need to “get over it?” How many more people have to die by their own hand before we realize these people can’t just “smile more?”
Anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness are medical conditions. Without proper treatment through medication, therapy or both, they won’t just “go away” any more than heart disease, a broken bone or cancer would. There are people out there who need help from medical professionals.
If you know of someone who needs such help, encourage them to seek the help they need immediately. Not next month. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Immediately. If you know of someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.
Because getting help for someone like J.P. — whom the world will miss — should never be a challenge or a debate.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong