ALAMEDA -- Terrelle Pryor responded with a look of utter confusion and a disbelieving shake of the head.

Richard Seymour responded by advocating for home schooling.

Coye Francies, speaking as if in a daze, responded by repeating a question at least three times:

How many?

The answer: 20 small children were murdered, and a total of 28 people are dead.

Upon hearing details of the carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Raiders locker room on Friday was, like the rest of us, in various states of shock. It was an abject reminder that professional athletes, even the physically tough men of the NFL, are not so different from the rest of us. They see and hear and hurt. They touch and love and feel.

In witnessing their reactions and simultaneously recalling recent tragedies and losses within the NFL family, I couldn't help wondering if maybe we should watch the games in a different light -- with a more humane eye.

If perhaps we should consider the individuals involved not only as coaches and players to be cheered and booed and fired but also as actual human beings.

We as fans are not at all accustomed to such personalization. We've gotten comfortable going on sports-talk radio and objectifying, disparaging quarterbacks and power forwards and relief pitchers. We go to websites, into chat rooms, and anonymously spit venom toward the athletes and coaches who do not meet the standards we've set.


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A considerable segment of American sports fans routinely overreact, often with an element of cruelty or intolerance. Ask Alex Smith or Carson Palmer. Ask Mike Singletary or Mike Dunleavy. Ask any member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Even someone as widely respected as Yankees star Derek Jeter can be targeted. A New York tabloid recently published an unflattering photograph of Jeter, accompanied by a headline referring to him as "Derek Eater."

Wouldn't it be a form of cultural evolution if we, as fans, could accept athletes as people first and the games as nothing more significant than, well, games involving people we hardly know?

It's not impolite to root for your geographical tribe. Or root with your heart. Root anyway you like, as long as it's healthy and in perspective, but always understand that the results of the games have no direct impact on your life.

Understand now, if not before, that sport is not life.

One weekend after the Kansas City Chiefs are hit with a murder-suicide involving a handgun, the Dallas Cowboys are clobbered by the vehicular death of a player, allegedly the result of a teammate driving drunk.

Two days after a coward with a trigger-activated killing machine opens fire in a crowded shopping mall, another one walks into a school and fires upon children.

I understand this is not one of those sports columns that focus on the games or the uniforms. These are not typical observations from the "toy department of life."

But the "toy department," as sport has been described, has been interrupted lately by life without the joy of toys. It is in the midst of a reality check.

When I asked Raiders coach Dennis Allen on Friday how he was doing, his initial response as we walked off the practice field was a comment on the challenges of the team. We all know his team is not good, so I rephrased the question to clarify: How are you doing, not as a coach but as a man?

Allen stopped in his tracks and turned to face me. His father, Grady, a former NFL player, died two weeks ago, breaking the physical bond between the two men. When the son of an NFL player takes up the game as a boy and becomes an NFL coach, it makes a powerful statement about paternal influence.

Allen, realizing my intent, paused and said he was doing OK. He said his family was hanging in there, that it was great to have members close to his mother in Texas.

He said it might be next month, after the holidays, before the loss truly sinks in and everyone takes a breath to properly mourn.

I asked him if it helped at this time to have something as time-consuming as football to keep his mind engaged.

"Yeah, it helps," he said. "But the reality is ... that's life."

Suddenly, I could see Allen was not at all preoccupied with the criticism he is taking from Raiders fans frustrated with the team's regression. I could sense his utter unconcern with the ridicule related to his youthful appearance and relative inexperience.

In that moment, he was treated not like a coach but like a human being. He clearly appreciated it.

So, too, would his players -- and all players, as well as all pro athletes -- were we to view them on a more humane level.

And you know what? I suspect we might appreciate them a bit more.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.