My husband and I got into a debate recently. Recruiting season recently came to it’s culmination around the country with National Signing Day. Thousands of athletes have chosen their home for the next 4 (or however many) years and coaches are excited about their futures, or at least say so on paper.
I can’t even recall now how the topic came up but we began to debate how much the NCAA, a college or any other governing body should be able to require of the student-athlete. Specifically, his concern was their medical records. Working in the legal field, specifically with Plaintiffs, I initially had a HUGE problem with allowing the NCAA access to these kids’ private records. We debated it off and on over a week or so, my position never wavering. Then last night, he reminded me of an incident that happened several years ago during 2 a Days. It was the first day of practice and it was hot, as it often is in August in most parts of the country. The coaches were running the players through drills with each coach at his own station. During my husband’s station, a brand new Freshman suddenly collapsed and began convulsing on the field. Paramedics were called and he was rushed to the hospital. When his parents were finally reached, they found out that the young man had a heart condition and had suffered heat strokes in the past. The player did not tell the coaches any of this because he was not required to. I’ll never forget the fear I heard that day when my husband wasn’t sure if that young man was going to make it or not.
Reliving that moment changed how I thought about this topic. Yes, their records are, and should be, private. But players are notorious for not revealing potentially harmful information. Nobody wants to lose his scholarship and finding out that a player is not as healthy as he represents is a good way to do just that. There has been a HUGE push to be extra careful with concussions in football but where does the player’s responsibility lie? Can they lie to their trainers and coaches about how many concussions they’ve had prior to coming to college? If that player later suffers from a debilitating disease, what role has he played in that? I agree we HAVE to protect these young men….but the coaches also have to protect themselves and their schools too. Knowing how horribly our situation could have turned out, what may have happened if that player had died on the field that hot August day, makes me think of this in a different light. If the trainers had known that this player was susceptible to heat stroke, he would have gotten more water breaks and more rest. If they had known he had a heart condition, they could have watched him much more closely. Maybe it would have happened anyway, who knows. He is fine now, that’s what matters, but that was a terrifying moment.
So what’s the solution? What should the school, the NCAA, the team doctor, the trainer get to see? Should each player be required to submit to a complete physical, EKG, MRI, x-rays and the like before they can sign? Or should schools continue to take the word of an 18 year old boy who wants desperately to play college football to be completely honest with them? Sure, some are. Most aren’t. And it may cost someone their life. And that…..that is a tragedy that can definitely be avoided.