Giving thanks to a sports community that shows up in the worst of times
Ah, Thanksgiving. The football is great. The food is overrated. And no matter what they taught me in grade school, Pilgrims and Native Americans did not commemorate the holiday by communing at an outdoor table in late November, sharing food in mutual admiration.
But the gratitude is real.
I know because I feel it every year. And because, just the other night, I ran across a social media post from Kristen Glasser, the widow of slain police officer, David Glasser. It filled my heart with love and inspiration.
“Happy Birthday in heaven, Dave! We celebrated you with friends and family today. Even did a shot of Fireball for you. Miss you so much! Love you forever!”
Glasser’s death in 2016 rocked our community. He was responding to a domestic incident in the middle of a weekday afternoon and got ambushed by a suspect who was armed and waiting inside a parked car. Glasser was 35 at the time, leaving behind a loving wife and two children.
“There’s a misconception out there that it gets easier,” Glasser said. “It doesn’t. You just to learn to live with the grief, absorb the grief, allow it to become part of your life. You learn to incorporate it.”
Glasser was a huge sports fan. He loved the Cardinals. He loved listening to sports talk radio. He was a big guy, charismatic and cool, the kind of fan other fans rally around. His death rattled us all.
But her recent post carried a different vibe. It included pictures from a cemetery, where Glasser’s family and friends gathered for their annual balloon launch on David’s birthday, the cathartic act of scribbling loving messages on balloons and sending them to the heavens. And, yes, there were Fireball shots.
“It’s weird,” she said. “Certain years, it’s still hard and I’ll be in tears when we launch those balloons. This year it was more of a joyful thing.
“You take it one day at a time. You persevere. Slowly, a light starts to shine, and you laugh again. We’re in a really good place now. It’s nice. I’m happy. And my kids are doing really well.”
After Glasser’s death, the Cardinals rallied strong around the cause and the Glasser family, honoring the fallen officer. My band staged a benefit concert, dedicating the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” to her late husband. I recall Kristen leaving during the middle of that performance. Maybe we were out of tune. Or maybe the emotion and the sense of loss were just too much.
Either way, my heart ached for her and her family.
It’s taken six years for the light to return. That’s why her post was so powerful. It’s a testament to the strength of family, the power of eternal love and the resiliency of the human spirit. It’s a credit to the community that stood beside Kristen in her time of need. It’s proof that we can lift each other up, help each other to a better place.
“We are blessed with the amount of support we’ve gotten,” she said. “Because it was so public and it involved the police department, the community was there for us. It was overwhelming in a good way. I think about other widows who have lost their husbands in different ways. And if they don’t have that support, it just breaks my heart.”
If the timeline is six years, then Casey Langen has a long way to go. Her journey has just begun.
Her husband, Mike, was also a diehard sports fan, omnipresent on Twitter. He loved the Bills because his mother hailed from New York. He loved the Dodgers because his dad came from California.
“He held onto them for dear life,” Casey said.
Mike Langen also loved sports talk radio. He regularly thanked his favorite personalities for helping him through a particularly tough week, and there were a lot of those. He even called me his “hero” in the final message I received from him, but I knew better. He was sending the same message to all the hosts at Arizona Sports.
He was a kind soul who did as much for us as we did for him. He also struggled with mental health issues, suffering from extreme social anxiety and depression. He endured a series of physical setbacks earlier in the year, catching COVID-19, breaking his foot and later breaking his wrist. Unbeknownst to his wife, he began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, coping in ways that ultimately led to his demise.
Mike texted Casey at 7:40 p.m. on the night of Oct. 20, saying he loved her and that he would be home in an hour. By 9:10, Mike hadn’t returned, and Casey knew something was terribly wrong.
He never made it home, leaving behind a widow and four children: Riley 16, Brady 12, Colby 10 and Eleanor 8.
Just like Glasser, his death rattled those in the tight-knit world of Valley sports fans.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” she said. “The kids are doing much better. It’s gotten to the point where there is less crying and fewer things that trigger the emotions. But it’s so weird. And it’s so new. I go outside and see my husband’s truck and it makes my heart drop. I have to stop myself from texting him about 100 times every day.
“The kids and I are just figuring this thing out together. My 16-year-old has been amazing. He’s making sure the doors are locked at night, making sure all the little things get done. He is so on top of things. And the other night, my daughter and I went out, ate cheeseburgers and listened to Michael’s favorite band. We just sang and cried.”
After Mike’s death, Casey was stunned to find he had over 5,000 followers on Twitter. A GoFundMe account in his name has raised over $15,000, which has been a godsend for Casey and her children. You can find the link here.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the love, empathy and strong sense of community inside this transient, crazy, divisive sports town. I hope Casey Langen finds the same strength that helped lift Kristen Glasser during her journey back to the fringes of normalcy. And that six years from now, she is also sending balloons to heaven with a wistful smile, raising a toast in her husband’s honor.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.