I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this, but I’m not sure if I really care about Evan Smith.

The USC forward’s search for his father Gavin has taken over the twittersphere in the last week, and tweets like “I’m an absolute wreck. Please help me. I’m begging you. If anyone know anything Plz DM me or visit http://findgavinsmith.com and post Plz #USC” are truly hard to read. @@http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/smith_evan00.html@@ @@https://twitter.com/#!/[email protected]@

The narrative of the disappearance reads like an all-too-real, made-for-TV movie. Smith’s younger brother called him Wednesday morning to say his father never picked him up for school, and hours later Fox Studios called to say Gavin never showed up for work. Repeated calls made by the family to his cell phone went unanswered. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since and police have no leads.

That was over a week ago now, and Smith has refused to give up hope searching for his father, using Twitter to appeal to journalists, fans and other USC athletes to help publicize his story. What followed was one of those remarkable sports stories where team alliances are cast aside and fans come together for one thing, spreading the word about Smith’s disappearance.

Those tweets led to an outpouring of support from the online community, and Smith and his younger brothers have appeared on Good Morning America and several other TV and radio shows in the last week. @@http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaab-the-dagger-college-basketball-blog/usc-forward-evan-smith-won-t-hope-finding-235758307.html@@

But what if the story was a little different? What if Smith weren’t an athlete? What if his father weren’t also a former collegiate athlete and an executive at Fox Studios? What if the Smith family didn’t fit the image of a happy, healthy, Southern California family?

I’m not saying that this story isn’t a tragedy, but I’m not sure that I really can say that I care on a deeply personal level. Nobody should ever have to go through the ordeal of a missing family member and you’d have to be a pretty terrible person not to hope that all of these cases have happy endings.

But in the back of my mind is the nagging fact that I’d have never heard about this story if Smith didn’t play basketball for the Trojans. As much as people say things like “this isn’t a sports story, it’s a human-interest story,” the fact remains that it’s only a story because Smith is a D-I athlete.

It’s refreshing to see people are good enough at heart to support Smith even if they’re not USC fans, but it all seems a bit superficial. I think people honestly mean well, but it bothers me that people only pay attention to these cases when an athlete or other public figure is involved. There are tens of thousands of similarly horrible cases every year and we don’t seem to care about them because we never hear about them.

I get that athletes are public figures and, for better or worse, that does make their private lives not-so-private, and I don’t criticize Smith for capitalizing on that to help find his father. Frankly, in his shoes, I’d have done the same.

I do sincerely hope that Gavin Smith is found alive, healthy and as soon as possible. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard this must be for the entire Smith family as the search enters its second week, given the harsh reality that every passing day reduces the chance of a successful outcome, but am I any more emotionally invested in the case than I would be in any other equally tragic missing persons case?

I don’t think so.


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