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Tragic Death of High School Football Player Lost in the Noise

Monday, September 29, 2014 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:25 PM, under , , , ,

Lost in all of the sports news this past few days was a tragic death in a high school football game in Alabama.  Yes, we have all heard and read about the alleged disgraceful behavior of University of Michigan Football Coach Brady Hoke leaving his injured quarterback in a game that was far out of reach, failing to pull him and have him evaluated for a possible concussion, and putting him back on the field before he could be evaluated.  We also have now heard in headline stories that the brain of former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shows signs of CTE.  But did you hear about the death of 17-year old Charles Henderson High School (Troy, AL) cornerback Demario Harris, who collapsed on the field as the result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and did not survive the weekend?  Unless you lived in the football-crazy state of Alabama, you probably did not.  And that in itself is a travesty.

It should be in the national news, as is the saga of Brady Hoke and his quarterback Shane Morris.  It may be by the Grace of God that Morris did not suffer the fate of the young cornerback from Alabama, but they are linked by a common thread that goes beyond football, yet also is a fact of football that cannot be swept under the carpet as the National Football League has done for so many years.  Traumatic Brain Injuries are unavoidable in football and we as fans really need to understand this and stop tolerating coaches, leagues, and programs that try to diminish this reality.  We need to put aside our need for the entertainment of watching 300 lb linemen try to out-hit and out-pulverize each other and think about what it is we are really doing by giving colleges and the NFL our undying love.

17 year old Demario Harris of Troy, Alabama died as a result of
a traumatic brain injury suffered during a game on Friday, September 26, 2014.

Yet, the story about the death of Demario Harris is nowhere to be found on the ESPN web site or on CNN.  Perhaps it did not make the news wire or if it did it was decided that it was not big enough news.  But the sad reality is that it is an essential part of the brain injury stories of Moore, Belcher, and every other player who has taken repeated blows to the head in the game.  The death of Harris, which happened the night before Moore even took the field in Ann Arbor is the punctuation point in the context of football this weekend.

So what we are left with in Troy, Alabama is profound grief and sadness over the tragic loss of a beloved teammate and classmate, made worse with one newspaper reporting his death the day before he was actually declared dead (and they then pulled the story).  There is a quote from his coach that the doctor told him that the young man suffered an aneurysm that “had nothing to do with football” and that it just happened to occur on the football field.   But the boy’s father said that contrary to reports, it was not an aneurysm but a hemorrhage that resulted from a hit he took during the game.  We might never know the truth of exactly what happened, but we know the boy died playing football.

Michigan Quarterback Shane Morris being helped off the field in
 the game on Saturday, September 27, 2014
Perhaps one of the more positive things that came out of Ann Arbor this weekend was the reaction of the media and the fans.  ESPN Analyst Ed Cunningham was quite pointed on their air when he said:

“Shane Morris cannot be going back into this game…This young man looked groggy after that hit. He’s being put back on the field; he can barely stand up. This is not good player management. We’ve talked about player safety, guys getting hit in the head. This is atrocious to me.”

This is a far cry from the words of CBS Sports Analyst Analyst Gary Danielson at the 2013 Sun Bowl, as related by Steve Almond in his new book, ”Against Football:  One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.”:

“Someone got even with Logan Thomas on that one!” whoops Gary Danielson, the color commentator. This is a reference to an earlier play in which Thomas, running in the open field, leveled a defender.  By the code of the game, the shame Thomas visited upon the defense warranted this revenge…One hears in Danielson’s jargon the expected deployment of euphemism, and in his tone the kind of earnest exculpatory vigor so common among football analysts. He’s trying to reassure himself, as well as us fans, that the traumatic brain injury Logan just sustained (and sustains over and over in the replays) is, within the ethical borders of the game, permissible.

And it was just not Cunningham and his on-air partner Mike Patrick.  It was the fans in the stadium and the fans watching on TV, all now screaming that Hoke be fired immediately for what is seen as this shocking disregard for player safety.  There are those who say this is only because Michigan is 2-3 and it would not be happening if they were 5-0.  Maybe, but no one can say for sure because they are not 5-0.

But Lord knows we cannot live without our football.  Michigan will play again this weekend.  Kansas City will play again this weekend.  Charles Henderson High School will play again this weekend, albeit with a heavy heart.  As fans, we will dutifully watch and cheer on our teams to a hoped for victory.  We will grimace when we see a player get hurt and applaud him has he is take off the field.  We will then resume our adoration and cheering for the action on the field.

But at what cost to the players involved?

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