Since Saturday, September 27th, the University of Michigan’s athletic department has been under intense scrutiny. In the fourth quarter of Michigan’s home football game against Minnesota, sophomore quarterback Shane Morris took a hard hit to the head by Minnesota’s Theiren Cockran. Morris fell to the ground and could barely get up. When he did rise, he was clearly woozy, wobbly, and disoriented. At one point, his head fell to the side and Morris had to be supported by one of his fellow Wolverines to keep from falling. Despite all this, Morris wasn’t pulled from the game. He kept playing.
It was clear to every single person watching the game, whether it be from the Big House or an actual house, that Shane Morris had just suffered a concussion. Yet apparently, it somehow wasn’t obvious to coach Brady Hoke, athletic director David Brandon, or any other member of staff standing on the sideline. To quote Hoke directly, “I knew the kid had an ankle injury. That’s what I knew … We would never, ever, if we thought a guy had a concussion, keep him in the game, and [we] never have.” While it’s disturbing enough to think that Brady Hoke could somehow miss the entire event of his starting quarterback taking a massive hit to the head and suffering a concussion as a result, the most horrifying part of this quote to me is Hoke’s language. He refers to Shane Morris as “kid” in every statement about the game that I’ve read. This is horrifying because it’s completely accurate. Shane Morris is a kid. He’s a twenty-year-old unpaid student-athlete competing for his school. He’s a kid barely older than me, and something like this was allowed to happen to him. Not only is this a gross injustice to Shane Morris himself, but it’s spitting in the face of every student-athlete at this school, saying that the potential of the game is more important than the health and safety of the athlete.
While reading about this story, the one thing that kept popping into my mind was Johann Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. In Homo Ludens, Huizinga speaks about the nature and significance of play. He defines play by 5 characteristics:
- Play is free, is in fact freedom.
- Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
- Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
- Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
- Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.
It’s my personal belief that the second Brady Hoke put the game above the health and safety of his players, the game stopped being play. It stopped being an instance that was limited by time and space, which Huizinga defines as a significant component of play. Shane Morris felt the effects of his injuries long after the game ended, and the University felt the effects of Shane Morris’s injuries long after the game ended as well. Order was thrown out the window, as a player continuing to play after suffering a concussion is not in order with the rules of football. Some might argue that college football wouldn’t be considered play to begin with, since the athletic department profits from it. But Shane Morris doesn’t. To Shane Morris, college football is play. Yes, Morris is at the University on an athletic scholarship, but even so, he receives no monetary compensation for his work. He plays the sport because he loves it.
On September 27th, college football for Shane Morris ceased to be play; it became wrapped up in reality. It became controversy, and that is not in the nature of play.
The second the game ceased to be play, the nation noticed. ESPN commentators at the game were flabbergasted at what had just occurred. Their unedited commentary goes as follows:
>> Ed: “I CAN TELL YOU THAT NUMBER 7 IS STILL IN THIS GAME IS APPALLING. IT IS APPALLING THAT HE WAS LEFT IN ON THAT PLAY. TO THROW THE BALL AGAIN AND AS BADLY AS HE WAS HIT BY COCKRAN AND COCKRAN SHOULD HAVE BEEN EJECTED AND MISSED THE REST OF THIS GAME AND NEXT WEEK.
HAVING A QUARTERBACK IN THE GAME AFTER A HIT LIKE THAT, THAT IS TERRIBLE LOOKING AFTER A YOUNG PLAYER!”
It became a national headline, with major news organizations such as Yahoo, The New York Times, USA Today, CBS, Time, ESPN, and Huffington Post having reported on this story, and that’s just naming a few. The public recognized the impact of what happened in that game, so much so that University of Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, released a statement in which he said, “As the leader of our University community, I want to express my extreme disappointment in the events surrounding the handling of an on-field injury to one of our football players, Shane Morris.” The relationship between the University of Michigan and its football program is a strong one with a very long history, as the themed semester Sport and the University implies, and this is something the public is aware of. But when events like this happen, the University is forced to comment. In a case like this, the University is the only institution with the power to provide justice for those left out to dry. It has been almost a week since the events of the game between Michigan and Minnesota took place, but the attention and controversy surrounding the handling of Shane Morris’s injuries has yet to slow down. The game started as an instance of play for Shane Morris, but by the end of the game, it clearly was not.