In her short time on earth, Linda Osmundson took on a lot of heavier burdens than a sportswriter trying to take on a story.
But it was Osmundson who convinced me that domestic violence is everybody’s struggle, and she helped however she could in the times when I called on her. She was patient. She was insightful. She was my go-to person when athletes got out of hand.
Linda, who died at 66 on Monday, was my hero. And I will miss her every day. A lot of us will.
She was a resource I leaned heavily upon, but with her passing, I realize that I did not lean heavily enough. I don’t know whether Linda was anything more than a sports fan. But she knew who read the sports pages. She knew men had daughters and wives and mothers and sisters. Domestic violence is still a blight on our society. Linda passed knowing that she had done the best she could.
The first time I called Linda, it was 2003, and I was writing a column urging the Bucs to release Michael Pittman, who had driven his car into that of his wife and child. The Bucs were just coming off the Super Bowl, but that told me that this was a player they did not wish to represent them.
That day, Linda stressed how important it is for a team to be more than a business to a community. How could the Bucs embrace the good works of their players and turn a blind eye to the bad of a guy who had just been charged for the third time?
A few months later, when the Bucs did nothing, I wrote another article asking whether abused women – many of them fans of the home team – would cheer for Pittman. Osmundson introduced me to a woman who said she cheered for the team, but not the player. When Pittman did well, she said her hands remained unclapped.
Osmundson summed it up best: “I just wish we had better heroes.”
In 2007, the Rays had an outfielder named Elijah Dukes who sent his girlfriend a picture of a handgun. There were other threats along the way.
That time, I reached out to Linda with an idea in mind. She found for me several victims, all with chilling stories, to address Dukes and the Tampa Bay Rays. Candy, who had been held at gunpoint for 3½ hours, wrote a message to Elijah. Bonnie, whose ex-husband put a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger, she wrote. Lee, whose husband thought he had killed her and actually buried her in a shallow grave, wrote to Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg. Linda herself wrote a letter to Don Fehr, the head of the baseball players’ association.
It was a powerful piece, made so by the experiences of these women who trusted Linda to tell their stories.
In 2015, I called Linda again. This time, Linda collected a circle of volunteers who urged the Bucs not to draft quarterback Jameis Winston. It was not as easy a question in those days when Winston’s reputation was twisted with the feeble Tallahassee police.
Throughout the years, and the stories, Linda’s passion never waned. Her commitment to the victims of violence never lessened. I’m sure she was that way with other members of the media, too. She took an interest in the stories. She knew that other victims, and other abusers would read, and if she could help a victim, she was always interested.
Sports is filled with large, powerful men who are used to getting their way. I wish I had talked to her about Ray Rice, about Adrian Peterson, about the dozens of others.
St. Petersburg is less for her loss.
Goodnight, Linda. You know, we had better heroes all the time.