NFL Should Push Important Cause, Soften Ignorance on Vicious Hits
The football carnage was worse than usual this past weekend. A college player was paralyzed and a couple of NFL players came close.
Do you feel the least bit responsible?
Don't worry, it will pass.
We long ago accepted broken necks as collateral damage. Regrettable, but what are you going to do, ban football?
Nobody wants that, not even most of the players who now spend their lives in wheelchairs. So we'll send our thoughts and prayers out to Eric LeGrand and demand the NFL tweak its head-hunting rules. Then we'll slide right back into our fantasy leagues or debating whether the BCS is worse than the Taliban.
That's all right. I'm not here to trigger any guilt trips for loving football. But since we won't stop the madness, we should at least do a better job of owning up to it.
The NFL has bedecked itself in pink ribbons this month to promote the fight against breast cancer. From coaches' caps to cheerleaders' pom-poms to the gloves DeSean Jackson was wearing as he was being nearly decapitated, you can't get away from the color.
As worthy as that campaign is, why doesn't the NFL raise awareness over a health issue it can really do something about?
"Something blue or green or whatever color related to spinal cord injuries," Eddie Canales said.
His son was paralyzed in a Texas high school game nine years ago. Canales has become a voice crying in the spinal-cord wilderness, trying to help victims of America's pastime.
It hasn't been easy. Forcing people to look at football injuries forces them to look at themselves and their passions. It's not a pretty sight.
Almost 300 players were paralyzed between 1977 and 2008, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Of those, 13 were pros, 33 were collegians and 243 were high schoolers.
LeGrand's broken neck is awful, but he'll have the best medical care and a university intent on seeing his every need is taken care of. It was the same with Mike Utley, Dennis Byrd, Darryl Stingley, Kevin Everett, Adam Taliaferro, Chucky Mullins and other players whose spinal injuries made national headlines.
It's not the same with LaJuan Moore, Corey Fulbright, David Edwards, Nat Little, Devon Herbert or O'Neil Mitchell. They are among the paralyzed teenagers Canales has tried to help.
"There's a huge disparity in the amount of help a high schooler gets and an NFL or college player," he said.
Canales found that out the hard way. His son Chris broke his neck while making a tackle for San Marcos Baptist Academy. Chris almost died twice in the hospital. He suffered from depression but found a purpose two years later.
He was at the game where Fulbright was injured and realized he could help the family through what was to come. Thus was born gridironheroes.org, a non-profit organization that raises money for paralyzed football players.
Or at least it tries to.
"We struggle to raise funds," Eddie Canales said.
In almost every case, there's an initial surge of sympathy. The school may raise enough to buy a specialized wheelchair or even outfit a home. But after six months or so, people move on.
Canales can't give anyone thousands of dollars, but he can offer the guidance of a person who has been there. He had to quit his job as a college bookstore manager to tend to his son.
"You have to deal with the work of three hospital shifts," Canales said.
A quadriplegic has to be turned over in bed every two hours, catheterized, medicated, bathed and fed. Canales said 19 players in Texas have been paralyzed since 2001. Many come from single-parent homes, so the money and help are scarce.
Gridironheroes.org manages to send them a $100 Wal-Mart gift card every month. It would be great if there were more, but that would require more awareness. It's easier to think pink.
Canales has written letters to the NFL and NCAA, hoping to generate some fund-raising interest. He's gotten pretty much nowhere.
"You have to understand, this is not something the governing boards of football want to talk about," Canales said. "NFL players don't even want to think about it. It's kind of a taboo subject."
Not just for players, but for everybody. Again, you shouldn't feel guilty for buying season tickets. The whole notion that stadiums are modern-day versions of the Roman Colosseum and players are gladiators is nonsense.
The Romans wanted to see gore and death. Football fans don't. Even Canales still loves the game. When other parents ask if he'd still let his son play, he asks them if they let their son drive.
"Statistics say your son has more of a chance of getting hurt in a car than playing football," Canales says.
True, but it's a lot easier to get by without football than without transportation, right? Weekends like this past one make me wonder.
As upset as we are today, we'll move on until the next Eric LeGrand happens. Then we'll pause and move on again. But by moving on, we neglect the saddest victims of our national pastime.
Kids like Chris Canales gave the sport their lives. And they don't even have a ribbon to show for it.