Injury on the field — now to the commercial

[Updated: 2 Oct 07. There is now a wikipedia entry for Kevin Everett. A recent entry from October 1st reports that his situation is improving. As I found it hard to locate recent news reports about his status I direct your attention to that entry for future news on his recovery. I know we all hope it is as complete as possible.

As of October 1, 2007, Everett had been relocated to Houston, near his family and off-season home, where he will begin a long rehabilitation that doctors believe will lead to his eventually walking again (they are “optimistic”) and possibly even making a full recovery. Working in his favor are his age, the incomplete nature of the spinal cord injury, his constitution, and exceptional physical condition at the time of injury, as well as the rapid treatment he received.

Hereafter is the post as of the previous edit, made a week after his injury.


I wrote a post last Monday about the many injuries that happened last Sunday in the NFL: Much Pain, No Gain.

Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills suffered the most serious injury. Though the prognosis was originally quite grim, the outlook has improved. See Bills TE Everett healthy enough to watch Bills game on TV from hospital room, though it remains an open question whether or not he will walk again.

The football news for the rest of the week was dominated by reports of cheating in the form of the videotaping of the sign

als of opposing teams by the New England Patriots, a team coached by Bill Belichick. That news pushed Mr. Everett’s plight off the front page to a column here and there deep inside the sports section.

Mr. Belichick did not deny these charges and the NFL deemed them true and punished the team.

Because of this tawdry affair I wasn’t able to muster much interest in today’s NFL games, even though both my local teams, the Giants and the Jets, were playing. I did notice that tonight’s sports menu featured a game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox on ESPN, as well as a game between the Patriots and the San Diego Chargers on ABC, and I turned on the TV about 8:30 to watch a bit of each.

I saw only a few moments of the football game, just a play or two. Then I saw that the camera had cut to a view of a player who was “down” on the field. He was clearly in pain, and I saw some tremors that suggested he might have some kind of nerve damage. The ABC announcers were John Madden and Al Michaels. I couldn’t see the player’s number, and I assumed that Michaels — the best play-by-play announcer of football — would soon identify the injured player, knowing full well that every family member of one of the players on that team was in a state of deep distress, wondering if their family might soon be cast into the same unfortunate situation as were the Everett’s.

Yet the view was immediately cut off as ABC started to broadcast a commercial. After all, an injury on the field results in a “time out” that allows the network to broadcast some commercials, putting some money in its coffers. Some of that money of course goes into the owner’s back pocket. What’s the problem? After all, this is just “entertainment.”

To think that this kind of cheating was going on while decent young men such as Mr. Everett and that young man I saw tonight were putting their careers — and bodies — on the line every Sunday was unsettling.

It was so unsettling to me that I turned off the TV and started to write this post.

Football, more than any other sport, is portrayed as combat. Combat where men go to war on the field just as they go into life-and-death battle on some foreign field.

Character is especially important in war in that the military relies on trust and honor. These are not hollow words. Soldiers need to trust their officers, and officers need to trust the soldiers, for if anyone doesn’t tell the truth, even when they know that doing so may cost them their lives, then needless mistakes will be made. As a result of those mistakes, some will live, some will die, and some will be injured, as was Mr. Everett.

While it is good news that Mr. Everett has recovered so much that he can now watch a football game, my guess is that he and his family know that this is probably as close as he will come to the game of football for the rest of his life. He and his family deal with the likely life-long consequences of the injury he sustained last Sunday.

Anyone who doesn’t behave honorably in battle, whether on the field or in the real world, bears a heavy burden. The U.S. Army failed its charge in the way it handled the death of Pat Tillman. He was one of the better players in the NFL yet, in a notable act of patriotism he volntarily left the NFL at the peak of his career to join the U.S. Army, where he became a solider in the Special Forces.

He died in battle in Afghanistan in what was later learned to be “friendly fire,” yet the Army tried to cover this up at first, thus causing additional injury to his family and even greater injury to its own reputation.

I just visited the Patriot’s web site and found on it statements by Mr. Belichick and Robert Kraft, the team’s owner and CEO.

Mr. Belichick’s statement says in part:

“I accept full responsibility for the actions that led to tonight’s ruling. Once again, I apologize to the Kraft family and every person directly or indirectly associated with the New England Patriots for the embarrassment, distraction and penalty my mistake caused. I also apologize to Patriots fans and would like to thank them for their support during the past few days and throughout my career. ”

“As the Commissioner acknowledged, our use of sideline video had no impact on the outcome of last week’s game. We have never used sideline video to obtain a competitive advantage while the game was in progress.”

I find this quite lame. He never says he is sorry, but just issues the sort of generic apology so often used by former Attorney General Gonzales.

Mr. Belichick also implies it’s no big deal since the taping didn’t affect the outcome of the game. Suppose that it had been the Patriots who played against the Bills last Sunday, and that a New England player had taken down Mr. Everett; and that when later asked why he had hit Mr. Everett so hard he had said, “I got an early start, just a fraction of a second,but it was enough to get me really up to speed. You see I knew the Bills’ signals; one of our guys has been taping other teams for a long time. Coach Bill thought it might give as an edge.”

Mr. Belichick’s grudging acknowledgement of his error and his insistence, as reported in the press, on “putting this behind me and getting back to the game,” also reminded me of a book by one of my favorite authors, David Halberstam. Mr. Halberstam was killed in a traffic accident in California a few months back while he was doing research for a new book. He was perhaps the best reporter of his generation and produced many wonderful books.

I had read “The Fifties” for the second or third time a year ago since it was so well-done. I also read “The Reckoning” again after his death. It is one of his finest works, a history of how the Japanese auto industry went from nothing to world dominance in a few decades, and since I hadn’t read it in over a decade, from time to time during this reading I thought of the parallels between the Japanese upstarts going against the smug, self-satisfied Detroit executives who were then dominant, and the current revolution going on as open-source becomes ever stronger.

I also read one of Halberstam’s last works, “The Education of a Coach.” It is on the surface a biography of Bill Belichick, the story of someone who knew a great deal about football at an early age and then, although he never played football at a high level, was able after decades of hard work to achieve his present success.

Young Bill knew so much about football because of his father, Steve Belichick. a football scout who spent five decades at Annapolis. As a father myself I found the senior Belichick the more compelling. He was clearly a man of great integrity who took great pride in developing character. After all, colleges, and especially military academies such as Annapolis, are all about developing character — it is the bedrock on which all other education must rest to be effective.

You can learn more about Steve Belichick at Stephen N. Belichick: January 7, 1919 – November 19, 2005.Excerpt from The Education of a Coach, and Navy Coaching Legend Steve Belichick Dies at the Age of 86

I hope that Bill Belichick comes to realize that he cannot “get back to the game” until he accepts that his actions go beyond a little bending the rules. He needs to ask himself, “Would my Dad and David Halberstam think I did the right thing? Have I honored their memory?”

Mr. Kraft’s statement begins as follows:

“This has been an extremely difficult week for our organization. The most troubling part for me, personally, is the impact these actions have had on our fans. We have spent the last 14 years developing and building a franchise that people could embrace and support. The loyalty of our fans has been the most rewarding aspect of owning the team. I am deeply disappointed that the embarrassing events of this past week may cause some people to see our team in a different light.

“After reviewing the facts of the past weekend, the commissioner has made a determination that our franchise engaged in activities that violate the league’s rules. He has determined the punishment and I accept it.

Mr. Kraft notes he has spent fourteen years building a franchise. And as part of that he has worked to build its reputation. I assumed he knows, as do most of us, that reputation is all, and that one misstep, one step over the line, can cause damage that can take years or decades to repair, whether it’s the reputation of a corporation or of an individual.

While Mr. Belichick accepted responsibility — though in a back-handed sort of way — he is not the only one at fault. How about the employee who made the tapes, the coaches and players who viewed them, and the other employees who knew what was going on but didn’t speak up?

And, above all, what says Mr. Kraft? His statement concludes as follows:

I look forward to returning all of our focus and energy to the field.

Mr. Kraft also doesn’t say he is sorry.

My son Michael once said, “Sorry is not enough.” Though under ten at the time, and perhaps even under age five, he understood the essential truth that words alone are not enough. Actions speak louder than words, and only they have enduring value.

Bob, even saying you are sorry would not be enough. You don’t need to return all your focus and energy to the field. You need to keep all your focus on repairing the damage to your reputation, and only a ruthless insistence that integrity matters above all else will help you do that.

I’m not optimistic that Mr. Kraft will rise to challenge. I noticed a few hours ago, just a few days after Mssrs. Belichick and Kraft released their statements, in Sources: Patriots give Belichick long-term extension, that Mr. Belichick may well be with the Patriots until after the 2013 season.

Now, unless I see some dramatic changes, I know the first year when I next might next watch a Patriots’ game — 2014.

On rereading this in draft form before posting it, I remembered another commercial from almost four decades ago, and realized that commercial, buried in my memory, was one of the reasons I felt impelled to write this post.

1968 was one of the most traumatic years in our nation’s history. I remember well that I was on the way to the Citibank at 96th and Broadway to get some money when I saw a newspaper headline reporting that Martin Luther King had been killed. Less than two months later Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

New Yorkers suffered through the next few days, sharing our mutual pain. Normal broadcasting rules were suspended, on both radio and TV, so we could all learn the news.

I was listening to the radio when normal broadcasting resumed. I then heard a commercial about some breakfast food.

I don’t remember the name of the cereal but I do recall one phrase from that commercial. Hearing it almost caused me to cry, and probably did.

The phrase?

“Our cereal is shot through with sugar.”

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