Monday, December 01, 2014

Career Or A Limp?

One of my favorite stories as told by Don Baylor was about the dueling suitors he had in his senior year of high school: The University of Texas football team and the Baltimore Orioles. 

Don, born and raised in the Austin, Texas, area, always wanted to play for the Longhorns. But the bird-dog baseball scout sent by the Orioles won out after he asked Don a simple question: did he want a career or a limp?

I wonder what the 2014 version of that question is? 

I can only pray that health is still in the equation, and that in this day and age, it is the athlete and his or her family pushing the issue, demanding to know, precisely, what institutions pledge to do to prevent head injuries. Because limps have got nothing on concussions.
Kosta Karageorge

The death this weekend of Ohio State University football player Kosta Karageorge brought that into clear focus as never before. The 22-year-old’s body was found in a dumpster near campus, police said Sunday. The player, who was reported missing Wednesday, appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to authorities.

Last week, Karageorge’s family told police that the young man had suffered multiple concussions and was being plagued by periods of confusion. Wednesday morning, he’d texted his mother, cited the head injuries and wrote: "I am sorry if I am an embarrassment.’'

The real embarrassment here is that organized sports at the highest levels had to be dragged into this fight against arguably preventable injuries by lawyers rather than doctors. Sadly, no matter how many millions in damages will be won by the walking wounded or their survivors going forward, there is not enough money in the world to right the lives of athletes already permanently damaged. 

We've read the stories, seen the interviews, heard the eulogies. The human toll is stamped on the world-weary faces,  reflected in the frightened, lost eyes of broken gladiators, buried with haunting murder-suicides. Heartbreakingly, the well-documented sagas continue to mount. How many other under-reported results -- nerve and brain damage, concussion-related Alzeimer’s and Parkinson’s -- we may never know.

Players, be they in Pee Wee football, Little League baseball or the highest professional tiers in the world, should be assured by their sporting bodies that every precaution is being taken to protect what is arguably the body’s most precious organ. 

Parents -- remember the dance? -- should ask the toughest of questions. Equipment manufacturers should be made by law to make the toughest, not the cheapest, protective gear. The medical profession, even the portion represented in the team-doctor class, should always vow that “do no harm” will always trump “win at all costs.” 

Protocols need not only be written on paper. They should be chiseled in stone, in every clubhouse, locker room and stadium. And those protocols should drive policy with an authority a thousand times stronger than that of the most prestigious coach in the land.

Lastly, any team, university or professional league that knowingly cuts corners or plays loose and free with an athlete's health should face the harshest penalties. If that means criminal as well as civil litigation, so be it. Because the victims of neglect, deceit or, most ominously,  medical malpractice, need the ability, and deserve the right, to hit back as hard as they were hit playing mere games.