Many say that death gives birth to new opportunities in life. For American soccer star Clint Dempsey who currently plays for Tottenham Hotspur and the United States national team, it is a tragic truth. Clint Dempsey’s successful athletic career came at a huge cost: the tragic passing of his sister, Jennifer Dempsey, who died due to a brain aneurysm at the age of 16.
Before the death of Jennifer, Dempsey parents had to balance supporting the separate athletic careers that each child was pursuing. Dempsey’s father, Aubrey Dempsey, recollects the times when he had to drive 170 miles so that Dempsey could train at a higher level with a team in Dallas.
“It was three hours there and three hours back. The hardest part was coming back. The older I got the more I would sleep through the practices so that I could drive back,” says the elder Aubrey.
When asked what it meant to Clint that his parents were sacrificing time and money to support his career, Clint said “I think its important to have that sense of belief coming from your parents, because it makes you believe more in yourself.”
As time passed, the long drives began to take a financial toll on Dempsey parents. As a result, his parents had to decide whether to support Jennifer’s tennis training or Clint’s soccer development.
“She was winning tournaments and she was number one on the high school team. They wanted to concentrate a little bit more on her,” Clint said regarding his parents’ decision to support Jennifer. He added that his parents knew that he was still young and that it was only going to be a temporary break from soccer development.
However in 1995, nearly a year after his parents decided to support his sister’s tennis development, Jennifer collapsed at home after suffering headaches and hours later died due to a brain aneurysm at the age of sixteen.
“They said Jennifer had fainted. She’d actually had a brain aneurysm,” Dempsey said in an interview with The Guardian. “My dad found her and he was freaking out. I can remember, really clearly, arriving at the hospital and a little doubt forming in the back of mind: ‘What if this is it? What if my sister dies today?’ You get there and everyone is crying. They tell you and your heart falls from your chest. You hit the ground and you cry for hours. You cry until your head aches.”
“There was a lot of anger but you just have to let that go after a while. I think time is what heals and it took a while for me to get better with it and cope with it,” says Clint regarding the mourning of his sister.
While hardly a consolation for the family, from death comes some sort of birth. No longer able to support Jennifer, Clint’s parents were now able to afford to support Clint’s soccer development with his Dallas youth team. Clint’s mother, Debbie Dempsey, said “I thought it was very good medicine for him. I noticed he was a very different player. He played with more of a purpose.”
Clint is now living his childhood dream, to be able to play as a pro in Europe. In 2006 he was scouted from his MLS team, the New England Revolution, to play for Fulham. However just this year, Tottenham Hotspur signed Dempsey on a three-year contract believed to be around six million euros, making him the highest salaried US soccer player of all time.
With every goal he scores, he thanks Jennifer and acknowledges her. “It’s weird because I remember something she told me,” Dempsey says. “We would talk about death and she said, ‘If I ever pass away, do you want me to come back and let you know I’m OK?’ I said: ‘No, that would scare me too bad!’ We talked about it some more and she said, ‘Well, if I ever die I will help you get the ball in the net.’ And that’s why I look up to the sky now when I score – to remember her.
“She is always in my thoughts and it is something that never leaves you. Every time I score I like to give her a little message, to remember her, to represent her and how she was.”