It is with sadness that I mention the death of Neil Fingleton. Many of you will know him from The Game of Thrones. I know him because we went to UNC-Chapel Hill together. At just over 7 and a half feet tall, he stood out on campus as the guy who seemed to be as tall as the street lights lining the quad and was actually taller than Brendan Haywood. While he didn’t exactly have a stellar career on the hard wood, he probably made more of a mark on Hollywood with small roles for giants and other big dudes.
The reason I mention his death is that it reminded me that many of our athletes live short lives. In Neil’s case, it was the gift of height that he was born with but for many others it’s the nature of the sport and the toll it (or “the life”) takes on the body which ultimately shortens the time which they have to enjoy it. Neil was heavily scouted and recruited to play basketball making it to the McDonald’s All-America prospect team.
With his passing, though, I can’t help but reflect on Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and other athletes who often pass before their time…though in Neil’s case it was startlingly young.
2 thoughts on “Neil Fingleton has died at 36”
It’s pretty cool Andy, that you are showing major love for Neil. I might not have attended UNC-Chapel Hill, but my blood always bleeds “Carolina Blue” — as it has since 1980. Let the Haters hate — Ha! I remember watching Neil play for Coach Matt Doherty back in the day, and he did his best to learn the fundamentals of “Big Men” basketball the “Carolina Way” (past down from coaches like McGuire, Smith, Guthridge, Doherty and Williams). Like you said, he didn’t have a spectacular basketball career, but I beam with “Carolina Tar Heel Pride” when I discover that Neil was an actor on one of my favorite HBO programs, The Game of Thrones! And yes, I did see X-Men: First Class, 47 Ronin and Avengers: Age of Ultron, as well. It’s nice that he was able to use his height to positively elevate himself into more opportunities while he was on this earth.
And I see where you’re going with this. We as spectators have no idea the amount of training, pressure, or pain (more often than not) that these big-time athletes go through, not unless you’ve experience it firsthand. Neil probably was predisposed to the heart condition, but dealt with it and just got on with life, pretty much like the late Tokitenku who died in January 2017 of malignant lymphoma at age 37 (again, so terribly young). Can you imagined what poor Okinoumi is going through with trying to brave through his tough medical situation — and entertained the masses, and may be harming his life further down the road? Hopefully not, but one never knows. Our favorite rikishis are laying it all out there, on the line, taking the hits, the pounding, the pushing, the falls — and unfortunately, some like Neil — will leave this world a little too soon. Rest in peace, Mr. Fingleton — and thanks for playing basketball the Carolina Way.
You said it better than I did.