Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A sad note to follow a great season.

As those of you who've read my posts on college football know, this has been a really good season for me, despite my premonitions of disaster at every turn. The Gators won the big one, and my alma mater, South Florida, had their first bowl triumph.

Now this. I'm ashamed to say that my first reaction was to hope it wasn't the fault of the USF coaching staff; that Keeley Dorsey had some undetected somatic disorder. But all that matters is, as the Beach Boys once sang, "A young man is gone."

Addendum: Today's New York Times has a story by Alan Schwarz (if you're not already registered with the Times, you'll need to do so to see the article; it's free) about the outcome of medical tests following the recent suicide of former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters (see bio here). Waters, who was 44 at the time of his death and lived in Tampa (coincidentally also where Keeley Dorsey died) had suffered from depression over the past several years. According to Schwarz's story, a post-mortem examination of Waters' brain tissue showed that it was similar to that of an octogenarian in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Over the course of his football career, Waters had suffered perhaps fifteen or more concussions.

I'd be quick to say that, whenever I'm watching a game and see a player down on the field, whether he's with the team I root for or the other, I nod in agreement with the announcer who says, "Don't you just hate it when that happens?" I watch football to see the well-placed pass that threads the defensive needle, the graceful reception, the runner finding a gap in the line and artfully eluding defenders downfield, the defensive back tipping the ball away at the crucial moment, the field goal in the final seconds to win or go to overtime, even the punt into the coffin corner. Yes, but what about the jarring tackle that shakes the ball from the hands of the leaping receiver or lunging runner? The linebacker catching the quarterback from the blind side and slamming him down, or the blitzing safety plowing into him head-on? Well, these are part of the game too, and, yes, an enjoyable part.

So long as no one really gets hurt. But how do we know?