When Jonathan and I kicked around the idea for this article, the first thing that popped into my head was the movie Varsity Blues. I pictured Billy Bob asking for help and the coach bullying him back onto the field. That scenario is much less likely to happen today. There is a huge spotlight on player's health that wasn't there fifteen or twenty years ago which has caused players, coaches and administrators to quickly become educated about how to handle injuries. Having said that, I think this is an easy one for me to answer. The player and his family should be the party to decide his future.
I do believe they should be equipped with all of the information they can be to be able to make the decision. I believe an unbiased third party should be involved in the evaluation and diagnosis of the player. In the case of Pipkins, this ESPN article insinuates that the doctor changed his or her story based on pressure from the university. If that's true, that is really low. Sadly, NCAA athletics is a business first too often and the players end up taking a backseat to dollars when it should be the other way around. That is the main reason I believe the decision shouldn't be left to coaches and universities. The coaches and universities have other interests that can blur their vision of what the best decision is for the player. The player and his family will prioritize the player's health correctly way more often than others.
The issue outside of the decision is the third party doctor. The ESPN article is unclear on whether or not the Pipkins' doctor was connected to the school but doctors related to the university can't be used and third party doctors should be shielded from pressure by the university. The thought of getting a completely unbiased opinion seems easy, but with millions of dollars on the line, things can get tricky. Ideally it would be nice for the NCAA to provide some assistance along these lines, but don't look for the NCAA to make cutting edge or bold decisions.
When the news of Ondre Pipkins transferring from Michigan to Tech broke, I immediately started looking up to see who our new Red Raider was, with the name slightly familiar in the back of my mind. As one of the top-rated defensive tackles in his class, I wondered what could have happened to make him want to transfer from Ann Arbor to Lubbock and then I found it. Injuries. A neck injury during practice in his freshman year and a season-ending ACL tear the following season. The Michigan training staff clearly thought his career was over, if the stories of them pressuring him to sign medical release papers are true. The question is, even if a player is medically cleared to play, is it really worth the risk further in life?
Too many times you see retired football players that have the physical capabilities of the elderly in a nursing home yet haven't even hit 50. The stress and strain of hard, physically intensive contact sports like football and hockey can have a severe impact on the human body after a couple decades. From high school training and into college, this is the best time for the best shape the human body will be in, but is it worth 20 years of success to live partially crippled after multiple injuries?
In recent years, the biggest case has been the studies on concussions. Just recently, a member of the female U.S.A. Olympic hockey team stepped away from the sport due to a concussion. Even though she was most likely going to set school records, she will miss out her last year of school, her second consecutive season to not play from a concussion. Additional concussions have been shown to increase a severe head injury that can cause permanent brain damage by almost 40 percent. In 12 years as the most loved and most hated person in the NFL, Troy Aikman reportedly suffered 10 concussions that ultimately led to him being cut from the team. While Troy doesn't suffer any known damage today, head injuries in football haven't been less frequent, even as scientific advances have increased our knowledge about the head and brain, and injuries affecting that part of our body. In the past decade emergency room visits due to concussions in children 8-13 year olds have doubled and concussions in 14-19 year olds have risen 200 percent. I don't believe that we should all be afraid of football and other contact sports, but when an injury happens, the affected parties need to use logic and reason to make an educated decision. The honor and glory of becoming a football star are too much a temptation away from maintaining good health.