Injuries Over Time

During the “Sport and the University” themed semester, I went to two events: a lecture by Dr. Jeff Kutcher on concussions in sports and the showing of Miracle, a film about the United States hockey team that beat the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Dr. Jeff Kutcher

Dr. Kutcher is the director of the UM NeuroSport Program. He is an expert on concussions. He has worked for Michigan Athletics and Team USA in the Sochi Winter Olympics. As someone who has was concussed three times in high school athletics, I thought it would be very interesting to hear from a leading concussion expert.

In Dr. Kutcher’s lecture, he explained the various causes and symptoms of concussions. He also discussed the controversy of head injuries in professional sports, especially the NFL. Many football players and athletes in other contact sports experience repetitive head trauma. When players stop playing, many still experience concussion like symptoms or extreme depression. Many doctors think that this is Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy, or CTE.

Many believe that because of the violent nature of football, significant numbers of retired football players suffer from CTE. Many retired players have extreme depression, aggression, thoughts of suicide, and concussion like symptoms. Recently, many former NFL players who believe that they have CTE or other kinds brain damage have filed concussion lawsuits against the NFL, demanding money due to the league’s lack of attention to player safety and protection. Some retired players have committed suicide, and many assume that CTE has caused the deaths.

Junior Seau committed suicide just three years after his retirement.

However, Kutcher believes that most of these players may not have any sort of brain damage. He says that the symptoms in both concussions and CTE are very similar to normal depression. He has noticed that many players feel depressed after they retire, and think they have CTE. However, Kutcher has discovered that the majority of the cases, the players are depressed because they are not playing the game they love, not because of head trauma. He believes that only about 4 out of about 140 NFL players he has examined actually have brain damage or CTE.

Kutcher even says that a lot of the diagnosed concussions today are probably not concussions. He says that over the past 10 years, there has been a huge spike in diagnosed concussions. Recently, people have been much more cautious with these head injuries, and are wrongly diagnosed with a concussion.

This lecture made me think about how aware we are about sport injuries. We are so conscious of these injuries that we believe that there are more injuries than there actually are. This reminded me of a scene in Miracle, where Coach Herb Brooks gives a fiery speech to his team. One of his players, Rob McClanahan, suffered a leg injury during the game. The doctor said McClanahan could worsen if he kept playing, so McClanahan took his gear off expecting not to play. Brooks accused McClanahan of quitting because of a “bad bruise.” McClanahan kept playing, despite the doctor’s recommendation.

Clip From Miracle

I think this shows how different coaches and players handle injuries today. In the 1980s, coaches like Brooks pressure players to play with injuries. It was expected to play through the pain. If someone got injured on any of my basketball teams growing up, my coaches would rarely let the player to continue to play. Depending on the injury, a hurt player would need a doctor’s note to be cleared to play. Kutcher pointed out that we often diagnose athletes with serious injuries whey they are not even seriously hurt.

Shane Morris leaning against his teammate after taking a blow to the head.

Our increase in sensitivity towards injuries is an example of how many of our attitudes have changed and how we approach most things today. You could look at injuries like it is fortuna, as it is beyond anyone’s control and determines how one acts. One can act more passively, be very careful and not risk worsening the injury. Or you can be more aggressive, and play through it. Machiavelli said “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

It seems today as if most people take the safer route when it comes to injuries. When there is a head injury, it is safer to just assume that it is a concussion and take more time to make sure one completely recovers. Are people too careful? Have we become too cautious? Should teams take more risks when it comes to injuries? When Coach Brooks encouraged McClanahan to play through the pain in Miracle, McClanahan’s play inspired the team to work harder, and they won a pivotal game in the Olympics. However, if a player has a serious injury, this attitude can be detrimental to the player’s career. Like what Machiavelli said, calculate the risk, and act decisively.

Kurt Russell playing Coach Brooks in “Miracle.”

Let The Pros Be Pros

Warriors Game at Oracle Arena

Warriors Game at Oracle Arena

I have closely followed basketball for most of my life. Specifically, the Golden State Warriors, my hometown professional basketball team. I have been going to Warriors games regularly for years. The professional players never fail to amaze me with their athletic ability and exciting style of play. When I was younger, I assumed that watching professional basketball would be more exciting than college hoops because pros are the best players in the world and truly superior athletes. They are paid to perform, and I thought that their games would be the most competitive.

Over the years, it seems that players work the hardest when they are in the final year of their contract. It makes sense. They have more incentive to perform at a high level because a team will pay more for their services if they come off of a strong year. Also, many teams give bonuses to players based on their performance and specific achievement. Examples include, winning a certain number of games in the season, scoring a certain amount of points per game, or winning a championship. When there is an opportunity to make more money, players work really hard to get it.

It hasn’t been until this year that I have watched college basketball closely. I attended the basketball games against Wayne State, Hillsdale, and Bucknell. Michigan basketball are my first experience at Division I games. My previous idea about superior competitiveness in professional basketball immediately changed. Students are much more serious than fans at professional games. Even when Michigan was playing against inferior teams, students are always cheering and the players feed off of their energy. College is just as, if not more, exciting than the NBA.

Michigan playing Wayne State on November 10, 2014

Michigan playing Wayne State on November 10, 2014

This type of competition supports the idea of amateur ethos. Instead of competing for money, they are playing for the “right” reasons. College players are doing it for fun, passion, personal achievement, and the pride of representing their school. However, while most collegiate basketball players compete for the tradition and rivalries, I cannot help but notice that some college players have more incentive to compete. Some of these players need to perform at a high level in college to make it to play professionally. There are some college players, who are technically amateurs, but have clear financial objectives.

If these “amateur” athletes are not supposed to have any type of financial incentive, are college athletes still considered amateurs? In the debate of amateurism of college athletes, people mostly argue about the money that the student athletes generate for the NCAA and the school, but the players’ own incentives are rarely mentioned. If athletes only go to college so that they can play professionally, are they still considered amateurs? If amateur ethos is legitimate, then college athletes who plan on pursing a career as an athlete are not amateurs. They are not playing for fun, they are playing to eventually turn professional. They are playing for the money, just like professionals. Their college careers are simply gateways to the professional level.

Jabari Parker only played one year at Duke before going to the NBA.

Jabari Parker only played one year at Duke before going to the NBA.

While this may not be as flagrant as the NCAA using college athletes in a very professional system, it is still quite serious. The fact that many college athletes have the mindset and the same incentives as professional athletes takes away from the reason why the majority of student athletes continue to play collegiately. According to the NCAA’s website, the two most valuable benefits of college athletics are education and academic success. Athletes only using college as a stepping stone to the NBA violates the idea of getting a quality education while continuing to have fun and enjoy the sport that they love. Most of the top college basketball players wouldn’t even consider playing in college if they were not required to do so. In the 2014 NBA draft, six of the top ten only played one year of college basketball. One of the top ten players did not even play in college because of rules about international players.

College athletics is fundamentally all about the money. Professional athletes work harder to make more money. Amateur athletes work hard to eventually get paid as professional athletes. Schools work hard to enroll the student athletes to make money. If college athletics is supposed to be about education, why force the top basketball players go to college before pursuing a professional career? If these athletes do not want the education and just want to be professionals, let them be professionals. Why not provide more students the opportunity to participate in college athletics, where they can enjoy the tradition and rivalries that the games provide? The best college programs are those that have players who stay more than one year and develop as a team. If a college athlete has the same incentives to participate as a professional athlete, then they should play in a professional league, and not rob honest amateurs to compete at the college level.

Derrick Rose: Prince of Virtu?

Rose looking to score

Rose looking to score

Derrick Rose is known as one of the most exciting basketball players today. His athletic ability and combination of scoring and distributing are breathtaking. Very few athletes are capable of the performances that Derrick Rose has displayed. Rose became the leader of the Chicago Bulls right out of college. He won Rookie of the Year his first season in 2009. In just three NBA seasons, he was named Most Valuable Player, the youngest player in league history to win the award. The Bulls have made the playoffs every year that Rose has been on the team.

While Derrick Rose is recognized as an elite athlete and basketball star, he is also recognized as one of the most injury plagued players in the league. In his five years as a professional athlete, Rose has suffered numerous knee and ankle injuries, including two season-ending ones.

Machiavelli Portrait

Machiavelli Portrait

According to Machiavelli, a good leader not only has virtu, or talent and expertise, but they also understand that everything is not under their control. Some things do not go according to plan. In The Prince, Machiavelli uses the term “fortuna,” or fortune to describe unexpected events that are beyond anyone’s control. Fortuna is chance that can be both good and bad.

Rose’s first well-known injury was a torn ACL during the first game of the 2011-2012 playoffs. He could not return for any more playoff games, and the Bulls struggled without their leader. Before his injury, the Bulls were predicted as one of the most likely teams to win the championship, but they lost to the 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Rose’s doctors cleared him to play in the middle of next season, but Rose decided to sit out and not return for the remainder of the year. Bulls fans were frustrated that their leader would not return. The Bulls managed to make the playoffs without Rose, and the addition of their star guard could have helped them win more games, and possibly upset LeBron James and the Heat in the second round of the playoffs. Rose was heavily criticized for not returning. Fans thought that he was lazy, and wanted to get paid without actually playing. Many of Rose’s supporters questioned his leadership and his will to win.

Rose after he tore his ACL

Rose after he tore his ACL

While I can see how one could be disappointed with Rose’s decision, I do not think it was necessary to question his leadership. Derrick Rose’s fortuna was his torn ACL. Rose could not have done anything to avoid his injury, it just happened. Machiavelli says that in order to beat fortuna, a good leader has to make tough decisions that some might disapprove of. Rose’s decision to sit out the rest of the season was disapproved by many. But he felt that in order to come back at full strength, he needed more time to get in game shape. Why come back too early and hurt yourself again, perhaps even more seriously or worse yet, a career-ending injury?

However, after taking the full year off, Rose’s return ended shortly. Ten games into the season, Rose tore his meniscus, and was out for the season again. This season, after missing last year with the meniscus injury, Rose twisted both of his ankles on the second game of the season. In the first seven games of the season, Rose has only played in two.

All of Rose’s misfortunes makes me wonder how much fortuna a leader can face while still being viewed as an effective leader. Does it matter how much virtu someone possesses if fortuna constantly occurs? Derrick Rose has all of the virtu needed to be a great leader and player on a basketball team. His teammates respect him for his talent and ability to control a game. When Rose isn’t scoring, he has the ability to make his teammates better by setting them up for easy baskets. Rose’s absence has proved that Rose is an effective leader. When Rose is healthy, the Bulls are one of the best teams in basketball. Without him on the floor, they have not been able to get past the second round of the playoffs. But one has to ask whether Rose is able to be a good leader if he is prone to injury.

Rose receiving his MVP trophy

Rose receiving his MVP trophy

I think that Rose is an impressive leader, but all of his misfortune makes it appear as if he isn’t one. Rose has to keep sitting out for long periods of time in order to come back as the player that he was before his injuries, and many people are critical of his decisions. If someone faces too much fortuna, they are often faced with making tough decisions which are disapproved of by many, making it difficult to be viewed as a good leader. If fortuna is extreme, can any amount of virtu overcome it? Virtu is always necessary, but is it always sufficient to defeat fortuna?

Is LeBron James A Fool?

LeBron's Return To Cleveland

LeBron’s Return To Cleveland

On Thursday, October 30th, 2014, basketball star, LeBron James played his first game since he rejoined the Cleveland Cavaliers. James’ career has been very eventful. The number one overall pick in the 2003 draft, LeBron is known as the best basketball player in the world today. He is viewed as a hometown hero to Cavaliers Fans, as James grew up 40 minutes away from Cleveland in Akron. James proudly represented Cleveland, making a commitment to bring a championship to his fans. On April 10th, 2010, before the playoffs, James told the media, “I got a goal, and it’s a huge goal, and that’s to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland, and I won’t stop until I get it.” He had all of Cleveland’s support.

Fans burn James' jersey after he announces he is going to Miami.

Fans burn James’ jersey after he announces he is going to Miami.

However, after failing to win a championship, LeBron made a controversial decision on July 8th, 2010. After playing his first seven seasons with the Cavaliers, James took his talents to Miami to create a super team with all-stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron became one of the most hated athletes in the world. Many thought that James betrayed Cleveland, who had supported him since the beginning of his career. He was called a traitor and quitter. Cleveland passionately showed their hatred of James, thinking that he broke his promise to bring them a championship.

When James arrived to Miami, there was a dramatic media event for the fans. James made his famous speech, telling the fans that he expected to bring multiple (not 1, not 2…not 7) championships to Miami. After 4 years with the Heat, James and his teammates won two championships. After the Heat had a disappointing Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, LeBron again became a free agent and decided to return to Cleveland. Cleveland fans, who had despised LeBron for leaving them, immediately forgave him. This season, Cleveland is projected to be one of the best teams in the NBA. After years of disappointment and hatred toward LeBron, Cavaliers fans again have a good team to support.

Throughout his career, LeBron has been accused of making and breaking many covenants to his fans and teammates. According to Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, one who breaks covenants is a fool. He claims that by breaking promises, one is denying justice. A fool thinks that there is no reason not to break a covenant if it benefits him. Hobbes’ says that this is foolish because one needs allies to succeed, and breaking covenants ends alliances.

Does this mean that LeBron James is a fool? Using Hobbes’ reasoning it would follow that LeBron James has lost many allies. Fans believe that he broke multiple promises. Former teammates feel abandoned. Shouldn’t Cleveland fans still be mad at LeBron? Should other players not want to play with James if he has a reputation for leaving his team if they lose? In LeBron’s defense, there was never a real agreement or promise between him and his fans. James just spoke his mind, and fans interpreted his comments as covenants. He said his goal was to bring a championship to Cleveland. He didn’t say it was going to happen. However, he did say he wouldn’t stop until it happened. He told Miami fans that he thinks they could win multiple championships. He didn’t give them a guarantee. From the perspective of LeBron’s fans, it appears that he broke his promises, but he never really made any.

Even if James did break promises and is a “fool,” it doesn’t really matter. It is hard to condemn LeBron James. He is simply the best basketball player in the world. Even if he abandoned your team and you hated him for it, if he wanted to return, you would welcome him with open arms. After all, he is LeBron James.

This makes me wonder if people assume that covenants are made too often. Many times, someone says that they want to do or think they can accomplish something, but don’t promise it will happen. LeBron never promised a championship in Cleveland, he just said he would try really hard. People sometimes trust others too much, and they can be setting themselves up for disappointment. For example, if your parter on a school project told you, “I’ll try to finish this part by tomorrow,” are they promising that it will happen?

Also, are all powerful people allowed to be foolish? If LeBron were being foolish, it doesn’t matter because everyone wants LeBron on their team. No one cares if he broke a covenant. When someone is so uniquely skilled in their expertise or field of study, he or she can afford to break covenants without the risk of breaking alliances. However, it may not be worth forgiving a powerful person because there is still a good chance they break even more covenants.

Fans happily welcome James back to Cleveland

Fans happily welcome James back to Cleveland

It is hard to call LeBron James a fool for his actions. While his comments to his fans suggested a covenant, he never really promised anything. Even if a covenant was made and broken, James’ return to Cleveland overshadows any hard feelings of a broken alliance. James has received a lot of criticism lately, but did he ever really do anything wrong? He did say was that he would not stop trying to bring a championship to Cleveland. He did leave, essentially breaking the promise that he would not give up. Did he return to Cleveland to make up for a broken covenant?

The Blade Runner

At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa made history. He became the first amputee to compete at the Olympics. According to Pistorius, both of his legs were amputated below his knees before he learned to walk. After dominating in the Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing, Pistorius represented South Africa in the 400-meter race and the 4 x 400 meter relay in the London Games. While he did not medal, Pistorius, or the “Blade Runner,” became a global icon. After the Olympic Games in London, Pistorius became a role model and inspiration for athletes with physical disabilities everywhere.

Pistorius racing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

Pistorius racing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

Mike Lavaque-Marty’s Being a Woman and Other Disabilities describes the struggle of woman and the physically disabled to participate in athletics because of stereotypes society has created. Society has developed an attitude that women or the physically disabled are unable to perform at the level of male athletes. Because of these stereotypes, society judges the athletic success of females and the disabled on male athlete performance, downgrading and devaluing the athletic ability of women and the physically disabled athletes. Pistorius broke all the stereotypes and proved society wrong. Pistorius, as a physically disabled runner competing against the fastest runners in the world, showed the world how a physically disadvantaged athlete is capable of athletic success. Pistorius adopted the motto, “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”

Unfortunately, on February 14, 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend. Pistorius admitted to shooting her, but he claimed that he thought she was an intruder. Pistorius was charged for culpable homicide, or “unlawful negligent killing of a human being.” He has been sentenced for a maximum of 5 years in jail. Pistorius’ attorneys believe that in 10 months, he should be considered for house arrest.

Pistorius at his trial.

Pistorius and his representatives claim that prisons are not safe for people with physical disabilities. They note that the showers in prison do not have handrails, and Pistorius would be exposed to different diseases. Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, is “not sure” why this was even part of the case. According to The Guardian, Zuma said, “I thought that was an unfortunate debate. You don’t need it, because there are people who are disabled who are in prison. Why is it raised as if he was the first one to be convicted? I thought they were pushing it too far.”

I find it very disappointing how a man less than two years ago was being praised for his athletic achievements as a physically disabled man is now attempting to use his disability to get out of prison. He prided himself on not letting his disability hold him back. Pistorius broke the disability barrier, proving to the world that there isn’t this large gap between female, male and disabled athletes. Now that he faces years in jail, he is reversing his position. For someone who advocated for disabled athletes to compete with everyone else, and not use their disability as an excuse, it is very ironic that he is now using his disability to avoid his punishment.

Pistorius could have been a revolutionary and an icon for generations to come. He provided disabled athletes the inspiration and motivation to break the barrier between male and paraplegic athletics. The stereotypes that Lavaque-Marty pointed out could have been broken. Now, Pistorius is just a hypocritical felon making excuses for himself.

The Case For Dave Brandon

Shane Morris being supported by his teammate after a big hit to the head

Shane Morris being supported by his teammate after a big hit to the head

With the recent struggles of the Michigan football team and the decisions of Athletic Director Dave Brandon, there has been a lot of controversy. The football team suffered very disappointing games against Utah and Minnesota at the Big House and a shutout in South Bend. Brandon has received a lot of criticism for sacrificing the tradition of Michigan football for profit. After an incident during the Minnesota game where Coach Brady Hoke kept concussed quarterback Shane Morris in the game, people had enough, and controversy escalated. Used to football success, University of Michigan students and other Wolverine fans have become very frustrated, and want Hoke and Brandon out. Students chanted “Fire Hoke” during the loss to Minnesota. A student run petition to relieve Brandon from his duties has over 11,000 signatures. Students protested at University of Michigan’s President Schlissel’s home demanding that he fired Brandon.

How we all felt during the Minnesota game

I understand the current frustration with the situation, (as I am also frustrated), but I think fans are letting their emotions get ahead of them. As fans of the football program, we are letting a couple of losses make us jump to unfair conclusions about Dave Brandon. While I agree that a new football coach next season should be a priority, I think we are blaming misfortunes on Brandon that he is not responsible for and also criticizing him for actions that may be beneficial.

Charles Woodson after they beat Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl

Charles Woodson after they beat Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl

If the football team were performing at the level fans are accustomed to, there would be a lot less complaining. While people were concerned about Brandon’s decisions before the season, the large movement attempting to fire Brandon began after the football team started losing games. Growing up as a Golden State Warriors basketball fan, where they did not make the playoffs for more than a decade, I can tell you firsthand that when your team is losing, you are willing to blame anyone for any reason. In the petition to fire Brandon, it states, “Unfortunately, under Mr. Brandon’s tenure, the football program, one of the most prominent programs at the University of Michigan and in the nation, has become a black eye for the University of Michigan.” It also says “…the athletic department produces overwhelmingly negative media attention…” People think that the athletic department is attracting negative media attention because of the football team’s recent struggles. We have to remember that Brandon is not the one calling the plays on the sideline or making sure the quarterback has a concussion. Brandon has nothing to do with the decisions made in the games. The games that we have lost and the Shane Morris incident are on the shoulders of the coaching staff, not Dave Brandon. Although the trend of increased ticket prices is frustrating, the money that Brandon is generating is very beneficial. According to Kellie Woodhouse of MLive, Michigan football brought in 82 million dollars to the University of Michigan athletic program in the 2012-2013 season. The football team spends about 23 million dollars, leaving about 59 million dollars for other athletic programs. This money allows other teams without comparable ticket revenue to succeed. With these funds, new facilities and state of the art equipment can be purchased to enhance the athlete’s skills. Since Brandon took over in 2010, Michigan athletics has won 3 team national championships, more than 20 individual national championships, and numerous of Big Ten championships.

2014 Men's Gymnastics National Champions

2014 Men’s Gymnastics National Champions

I think that Dave Brandon is an effective athletic director and a leader. In Max Weber’s lecture “Politics as a Vocation,” Weber says that a good leader has passion and commitment to a cause, responsibility, and a sense of proportion. In the petition, it says that Brandon stated, “Athletic programs play [a role] in helping to shape the culture and image of our university community.” While many people believe that Brandon has failed to “shape the culture and image of our university community” in a positive way because of our football program, I think that he has actually done a good job. When I was choosing schools to come to, the University of Michigan stood out because of all of the opportunities and programs that they offered to their students. Dave Brandon is committed and passionate about providing an opportunity for all athletic teams to succeed, just as the University is committed and passionate about providing opportunities for students in the classroom. Brandon saw that the football program is capable of providing enough money to support many sports team in the athletic department. He has a responsibility to do what is right for all of the programs. Many argue that Brandon does not have a sense of proportion for getting rid of tradition. According to ESPN, alumni are accusing Brandon for prioritizing revenue over tradition. Even though the tickets are more expensive, I do not see how any tradition is lost. Fans sing the same fight song, listen to the same songs the band plays, and chant the same cheers.

Dave Brandon

Dave Brandon

To summarize, it is unfair to fire Dave Brandon. After the recent losses, people have become very frustrated, and started falsely accusing Brandon for many of the football team’s problems. Dave Brandon does not make the decisions on the field, Coach Hoke does. The athletic department is not bringing in the bad media, the football team is. Even though increased prices in tickets is frustrating, that money is used to create opportunities for other athletic programs at U of M. Brandon fits Weber’s definition of a good leader because he is passionate and committed to allowing all teams to succeed, and is not letting his goal get in the way of tradition. Instead of using Dave Brandon as a scapegoat, we should support our football team to finish the season strong.