Mel Tucker learned right from the start that he wasn’t in Georgia anymore.
The University of Colorado hired a new football coach in December, and as coaches are wont to do, he talked tough.
“Our team, we will be physical,” Coach Mel Tucker said at his introductory news conference. “My dad always told me the name of the game is hit, hit, H-I-T. There is always a place on the field for someone who will hit.”
He was preaching that old-style pigskin religion. Unfortunately, Tucker, who came from the University of Georgia, runs a football program that has produced at least a half-dozen players — including several who played in the N.F.L. — who have killed themselves. Other former players are alive but afflicted by severe post-concussion problems.
Two university regents, dissenters from the Church of Hit, Hit and Hit, read Tucker’s remarks and shook their heads. A few days later, these heretics voted against his five-year, $14.75 million contract. They could not block the contract, but another cannon had been fired in the football concussion wars.
“I really thought at first that we could play football safely with better rules and better equipment; I drank the Kool-Aid,” she told me. “I can’t go there anymore. I don’t believe it can be played safely anymore. I want these young men to leave C.U. with minds that have been strengthened, not damaged.”
I wish I could say I have a good rebuttal for that, but I don’t. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find a better summary of the dilemma college football faces in that regard than this quote:
“We should move in the direction of offering lifelong insurance and medical care for football players who become badly damaged,” said John Kroll, the other regent who voted against the coach’s contract. “But to do that is an implicit acknowledgment this game is incredibly dangerous to play.”
We love the sport and our passion fuels its success, but, man, the price some of these kids wind up paying for that. I don’t know about you, but, yeah, I feel a little guilty. In the meantime, as a minimum, make that lifelong insurance and medical care a reality, schools. It really is the least you can do.