The sport brings high intensity. From a block on a punt return to a bone-jarring hit, the physical nature has America in a trance. In nearly appropriate comparison, football players are today’s gladiators.
Each year, they get bigger. The next season, they get faster. All in all, they get stronger. Due to early weight training and sport specialization, the athlete is fine-tuned by the time they reach the professional level.
In some places, they are even incredibly sculpted at the college level.
Size, speed, and strength make for a great product on the field. What about the other side of the coin?
Anyone who follows sports knows the great measures that go into concussion testing nowadays. It’s a necessity and has even trickled down to high schools.
On field, the collisions can’t be projected. The rule changes have done what they can to save the players from each other. The nostalgic types dislike some of the touchy calls, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.
The rules and the testing only go so far towards player safety. As with most things, there is a gray area that exists.
There is the unpreventable injury. The play that is nauseating, yet the fans and players remain completely helpless.
One such incident occurred Saturday in Tulsa’s 45-10 drubbing of Tulane.
If you didn’t see the play, consider yourself lucky.
Tulane senior safety Devon Walker helped to make a tackle. His teammate, Julius Warmsley was in on the play. Walker and Warmsley collided and Walker took the worst of the hit.
It was a play that was nothing but football. The contact between the Green Wave defenders was incidental. It happened because the two men were trying to make a tackle.
The ball carrier went down just quickly enough for them to smash into each other.
Walker was conscious after the play and eventually was moved from the field in an ambulance. Sunday, he underwent a three-hour surgery to stabilize his spine.
Many prayed for the young man, and continue to do so. In his position, he needs as many thoughts and well wishes he can get.
The question about player safety will continue to perpetuate as long as football is played. In today’s aware society with technological advances, the question is a beautiful thing.
We try not to chalk it up as, ‘just a part of the game.’ There are doctors, scientists, and students working feverishly in labs to help prevent major injuries. However, Walker’s injury and many others like it fall between the cracks.
When the incident itself is deemed unpreventable, the institution then draws the questions.
There are no answers to those questions.
It’s an event that can only be witnessed with a grimace and looked back on with the shake of a head. Hopefully, we can all salute Walker’s progress in the coming months and years. That has been the case with paralyzed Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand.
LeGrand’s perseverance has been an inspiration to any human with a heart. The good from that event has certainly come; yet, the man remains paralyzed.
Therein lays perhaps the most troubling part of the gladiators and their size, strength, and speed. A man will never walk again because of a game. A sport used for fun and, in college, a way for someone to earn an education (Walker is a cell and molecular biology major).
It’s within the realm of possibility that a man could lose his life on a football field.
Although certainly not a regular consequence, it’s still a very real possibility that we may see it on our television one weekend.
In some cases, nothing can be done about it. Some incidents just can’t be prevented on the gridiron.
Yet, one can’t help but wonder about the reality of the serious injury and how something as pure as sport could create it.