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FENNO: NCAA’s concussion culture rooted in denial
Question of the Day
The NCAA likes to talk about culture.
In a news conference last July discussing the draconian penalties against Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, president Mark Emmert used the word eight times.
“Certainly, the lesson here is one of maintaining the appropriate balance of our values,” Emmert said. “Why do we play sports in the first place, and does that culture ever get to a point where it overwhelms the values of the academy, those things that we all hold dear?”
The finger-wagging president should heed his own advice.
The 1,000-plus pages of internal NCAA emails and documents filed in federal court Friday as part of a lawsuit challenging how it handles head injuries reveal the group’s rotted, self-absorbed culture. This is an organization, after all, founded in 1905 to protect the safety of college athletes. Email after eye-opening email, however, reveals a bureaucratic wasteland that’s strayed far from the original mission.
Start with the brutal email sent by a Division III football player named Rickey Hamilton Jr. to David Klossner, the NCAA’s director of health and safety, in April 2008. Hamilton, who played for MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., was concerned his team didn’t have a trainer at practices or most games.
“There are multiple players on my team who have suffered injuries and have not had the correct treatment for them,” Hamilton wrote. “We are trying to see what we can do about this because this is not fair to the student athletes who put their all into something and can’t even get the proper treatment needed.”
A week later, Klossner responded that the NCAA didn’t have rules relating to the use of athletic trainers and, ironically, linked concussion awareness videos from the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
Translation: This wasn’t the NCAA’s problem.
That’s a recurring theme in the organization’s response to concussions that seems an awful lot like a lack of institutional control. Pass the buck. Sure, they’ll go after a college athlete for an illicit ham sandwich (Eric Crouch in 2000), mandate the toppings a school is allowed to offer on bagels (check out the 430-page rule book) and hand Emmert unprecedented power to eviscerate Penn State (blame culture). But concussions? The organization can’t run quickly enough from its most basic reason to exist.
In January 2010, for example, two NCAA staffers mocked Klossner’s efforts to implement concussion policy. Klossner comes across in several emails as an earnest, often frustrated advocate of meaningful reform those around him didn’t, or wouldn’t, grasp.
“He reminds me of a cartoon character,” Nicole Bracken, associate director of research, wrote in an email.
“HA! I think you’re right about that,” responded Ty Halpin, director of playing rules administration, who previously complained about trying to get Klossner “off his back” and how he was “hot/heavy on the concussion stuff.”
This is the culture festering behind the NCAA logo.
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About the Author
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