Louisville shooting guard, Kevin Ware’s injury last night was gruesome. It was unlike anything most of us had ever seen before on live television (most of us aren’t old enough to remember 1985 when Lawrence Taylor laid a devastating blow on Joe Theismann that snapped his leg in half). Last night, we just wanted to look away. The pain on the face of his teammate, Russ Smith as he fell to his knees as his brother of the court lay on his back with six inches of his bone sticking out of his skin, said it all. The tears of his coach, Rick Pitino made other grown men cry even more. He had lost a warrior in battle, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Kevin Ware should not have broken his leg in two places last night. It was a freak accident. He landed wrong on a routine attempt to block a three point shot. One could argue that he stopped short because they were playing on a raised court, but that is all speculation. What we do know is that the young man may never play another basketball game at Louisville again. Or for that matter a basketball game anywhere. Even though an emotional Coach Pitino boldly stated at the end of the game, ” We’ll get him back to normal. We’ve got great doctors, great trainers,” there is absolutely no guarantee that he will be able to play at this level again. We can only hope he makes a full healthy recovery, but that injury last night was one of the worst.
In all honesty, what is much more concerning than Kevin’s basketball career, is that there is no guarantee that his scholarship, aka his education, is secure. Louisville, which is the most profitable basketball program in the country, voted against four year guaranteed scholarships last year, meaning that every year each player’s scholarship has to be renewed, including Kevins’. This was the university’s decision, as the NCAA allowed every university to have their own policy around guaranteed scholarships (note: other universities voted in favor of four-year guaranteed scholarships). Do I think that Louisville will honor Kevin Ware’s scholarship? Yes, however they have no legal obligation to do so, and that is disturbing. His future should not be determined by the sympathy or the moral decision of a coach or a basketball program, it should be secured through a legal process, so in case anything changes with his team and/or university, he is protected. What if Kevin didn’t break his leg in front of millions of people on national television playing for the best team in the country? Would you be so sure that his school would do the “right” thing? What if Kevin played for a 16th seed that got beat by 40 points in the first round? Would you feel comfortable knowing that the fate of his education is subjective to the needs of a sports program whose income is deeply connected to the overall success of the university? I know I wouldn’t. Sadly, Kevin broke a lot more than just his leg…
I went to a university that is considered one of the best sports schools in the world. I watched many student-athletes suffer serious injuries that ended their sports careers. And as their dreams and hopes vanished on the field or court, often times it would translate into struggles in the classroom. This would lead to academic probation, which would then lead to their scholarships being revoked, which would then lead to their departure from the school. At that time, having no guarantee of their education, the fragility of my dear friends was troubling to many of us. I cannot tell you how many nights I stayed up in my dorm room listening to the fears of tennis players, basketball players, football players, baseball players and other athletes who were petrified that their lives were destroyed after suffering a sports related injury. They couldn’t fathom how the university could use their likeness and image to make so much money off of them, but when they no longer could perform, they became expendable and a drain to their scholarships rolls.
As David Sirota poignantly noted last night on Salon.com,
“Those players are treated as worse than mere commodities — because at least commodities are given a financial value. They are treated as indentured servants, who do not get their fair share of the revenues and who can be discarded if they dare get hurt doing a job for the very school that refuses to guarantee them a full college education.”
These were issues that had no solutions fifteen years ago, and unfortunately we still grapple with these same issues today. The only relief that we have seen is the courage of California Governor Jerry Brown, who signed SB1525 at the end of 2012, protecting athletes at the four universities that receive more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue – USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford, making California the first state to mandate financial protections for student athletes who suffer career-ending injuries. This should be replicated across the country, so Kevin Ware can go to sleep tonight, knowing that if he never picks up a basketball again, he will always be welcome in the classroom. And that is something that should never be broken.
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik