The Wall Street Journal, known for its command on all things in the sports world, released a story yesterday on a former Bama player who was put on medical scholarship because of an ailing back problem.
The story contends that Alabama head coach Nick Saban pushes “non-producers” into taking medical scholarships in order to get them out of the way for more productive recruits.
The story, written by Hannah Karp (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Darren Everson (email@example.com) centers on Alabama’s relationship with former linebacker Charlie Kirschman. Kirchsman injured his back in April 2008, an injury that lingered through the spring of 2009.
Among the most laughable nuggets from this piece is, among the 12 medical scholarships awarded at Alabama since Nick Saban took over in 2007…
“Three Alabama players who’ve taken these exemptions say they believe the team uses the practice as a way to clear spots for better players by cutting players it no longer wants”
…though amid these steaming, hot sources, only one of these sources is named: Kirschman. Unnamed sources really give a story credit, don’t they? I’m no math whiz, but 1 out of 12 is 8%.
It does name and quote two other players who took medical scholarships, Jeremie Griffin (in 2009):
“…said he doesn’t contest the results of the physical and said it was “basically my decision” to forgo the rest of his playing career.”
…and Charles Hoke (in 2008):
“…said the choice was left entirely up to him and was based on the many conversations he had with the team’s doctors and trainers over the course of his junior year.”
So, doing the math again, that’s 200% more named sources that said the medical scholly issue was on the up-and-up in Tuscaloosa. And yet, as these pieces are constructed to do, the article attempts to cast a shadow of doubt. If the writers attempted to lump Hoke and Griffin into the same sentiment pool with the “bitter” Kirschman, by their own words in the article, this is a huge jump.
Okay, Ms. Karp and Mr. Everson, here’s what you need to know:
First, football is a physical, brutal game. Where I live, two nights a week on my way home from work, I pass a field full of children practicing flag-football. But see, college football isn’t that. Players break legs. They tear up knees. They bruise their brains. Muscle gets ripped away from the bone, and back injuries occur that, in some cases, never go away. Some of the injuries aren’t permanent and players can come back from them. Some are permanent, and the book is closed on their career.
But every player suits up every day with these realities in mind. Just like climbing in your car to go to the grocery store, the risk of getting plowed by a teenage girl driving her dad’s SUV while putting on make-up…well, that’s the chance you take.
Second, athletes have egos. You don’t make it to D-1 college football by not being great (unless you’re a defensive back recruit headed to Auburn). They come from high school careers where they were the big man on campus. Their young 19-year-old egos often can fill up a stadium alone. So is it a news flash when they disagree with the advice or prognosis of a medical team handed to a coaching staff?
Ummm, no. Contrary to popular thought (and fodder for neat-o articles written to put one on the map…wait, I take it back. A journalist would never stoop to this), at most universities the coaches that recruit these players care about their futures more than they do wins and losses. I know there are exceptions, but I believe these are rare. But every player in D-1 signed that scholly believing the NFL was their next stop, and when something or someone cuts that dream short, expect a robot programmer like Kirschman, still warm from the Friday night lights he used to be a star under, to be upset about it.
Medical Scholarships are a blessing. They prevent a player’s sustained injury from shipwrecking their pursuit of paid-for education…you know, on someone else’s dime. Give your favorite university a call today and ask what the total package is for tuition, room and board, fees and books. As a father, it gives me diarrhea every time I think about it. What an incredible blessing a scholarship is, but even more so, what a huge blessing having a school agree to continue to pay for your education when the reason they were originally paying for your education circumstantially is no longer in play.
The NCAA created this mess. They regulate, re-regulate and over regulate everything you can imagine. Want to fix “the problem?”… Take away the scholarship limitations…or expand them back to 95 players. I absolutely believe coaches have the best in mind for the players they bring into their programs, but at the very same time, if you don’t understand the climate of college football, you don’t understand college football.
Ask Mark Richt today, sitting at 0-2 in the conference and in a three year lull at Georgia, what’s more important: Putting the best athletes he can find on the field against Mississippi State or floating a spot to a player who is injured and will never see the field again? You won’t find a better man in the game, but you won’t find a coach in worse need of a win.
Their livelihoods are based on remaining competitive. In some cases, that translates directly to wins and losses. And if the system created by the NCAA requires that they shed a player who medically will never be able to contribute at the level maybe they once did or could, point your finger at Indianapolis, not Tuscaloosa.
In summary, to read the article you’d believe Alabama is the only team in America to have disgruntled players who left the program disappointed with how the way things played out for them. These players have mouths, and some of them use them. That’s okay…this is America and (today) we still have freedom of speech.
But give us a freaking break, Wall Street Journal. I’m sure there’s something more enlightening you could give us on the economy.
Note: Attempts to reach Hannah Karp and Darren Everson were unsuccessful.
(Follow me on Twitter at ITK4BAMA for capstonereport.com news, updates and smack.)