King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Fatalism and denial: Carrying on after a sports catastrophe. Plus: The idiotic Patriots "spying" scandal.

By Salon Staff
Published September 12, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)
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The news about Buffalo Bills player Kevin Everett looks awfully dire. Doctors have called the cervical spine injury he suffered making a tackle in Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos "potentially catastrophic" and life-threatening.

Orthopedic surgeon Andrew Cappuccino, who operated on Everett Monday, said, "A best-case scenario is full recovery, but not likely," and that there's a good chance Everett will be at least partially paralyzed. Everett remains under sedation as doctors wait for the swelling to go down so they can better analyze his injuries, news reports say. Infection and blood clots are serious dangers.


Not much to say other than how awful it is, how everyone hopes Everett proves the doctors wrong.

It's hard to watch and hard to think about. Hard to stay in my chair as I type this. Being paralyzed is one of my greatest fears. Isn't it yours? The tackle on which Everett was injured looked like a thousand other tackles made every weekend by hundreds of players.

How can any of us watch all those tackles next week and all the weeks to come without cringing in fear of the same thing happening? How can the players themselves race downfield toward collisions even more severe than the one that changed Everett's life?


Somehow, we will, they will. It's a life skill we all develop, or maybe it's an instinct, I don't know. But it's not coldheartedness. We all do it every day.

One of the first things I ever wrote about professionally was death in a boxing ring. A local up-and-coming lightweight in San Jose, Calif., named David Gonzalez had knocked out a journeyman named Rico Velazquez -- who had no business being in the ring that night, but that's another story -- and Velazquez had died from his injuries.

I interviewed Gonzalez as his next fight approached. He told me he felt bad about Velazquez's death, but not guilty. Serious injury and death were hazards of the trade, he shrugged.


I asked him how he dealt with that. Having seen firsthand the toll his sport could take, how could he climb back through the ropes? He turned the question around on me. "You could get killed every time you get into your car," he said. "You just don't think about it."

I became fascinated with the question and asked it to pretty much every boxer I met over the next few months, which was a lot of them since I was writing about boxing. Almost all of them gave me a variation on Gonzalez's answer, a mix of fatalism and denial that I found familiar even as I found it strange.


It's true, we manage not to think about very real dangers we face every day, and though we're thinking about the danger of catastrophic injury in football at the moment, we'll return it to our mental back burners soon enough. Or at least most of us will.

John Madden likes to point out, during the inevitable shot of Archie and Olivia Manning in the stands of a game one of their sons is quarterbacking, how miserable the couple looks, and how unhappy every parent of every football player looks during every game. They're thinking about very real dangers.

Football games are many things to many people, but at bottom, for the players, they are things to be survived intact. When one doesn't, as Everett apparently didn't Sunday, all we can do is feel bad for him, be thankful that such a thing is so rare and demand that every precaution is taken to prevent it.


Kevin Everett's in a world of hurt, but he's also in good hands. Most football players who suffer injuries like his aren't so lucky. They're high school kids. One of them, Chris Canales of San Marcos, Texas, formed a foundation with his dad called Gridiron Heroes. Its mission is to provide immediate and long-term help for high school players who sustain catastrophic spinal cord injuries.

If you're having trouble making it OK for yourself to just go back and enjoy the next batch of games, you might want to have a look. Also check out the Mike Utley Foundation, formed by the Detroit Lions lineman who was paralyzed in an NFL game in 1991. It's hoping to find a cure for paralysis caused by spinal injuries.

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Pats sneak camera into super-secret location: The field [PERMALINK]

The fracas over the New England Patriots "spying" on the New York Jets during Sunday's game in New Jersey is an early leader for dumbest controversy of the year honors, though to be fair Terrell Owens hasn't even started warming up yet.

NFL security officials confiscated a video camera and tape from a Patriots employee who had been pointing the camera at the Jets bench. The league has a rule against teams having video recording devices in the coach's booth, the locker room or on the field during games.


Why does the league have that rule? For the same reason it has a rule governing the length of players' socks. The NFL likes rules.

So the league is investigating, there is word of similar incidents involving the Patriots in Detroit and Green Bay last year, and the Patriots could be in danger of losing future draft picks or even having to forfeit the game, which they won 38-14.

Let's not get into the cloak and dagger details because, really, who cares? If there's a rule against video cameras and the Pats had a video camera, let 'em pay, though talk of forfeiture is beyond overkill. The last time an NFL game was forfeited was in 1921, the year before the American Professional Football Association changed its name. This can't possibly have been the most serious game-day rule violation since then.

Punish the Patriots if that's what it takes to keep the suits -- and various Pats haters around the world -- happy. Then get rid of that rule.


What the Pats are accused of doing is "spying" on the Jets coaches as they sent signals to the defense. My understanding of spying must be different from the NFL's. Watching a guy flapping his arms while standing in the middle of 70,000 people and in front of a national TV audience doesn't qualify. Even if you point a camera at him.

I mean another camera, aside from all the legal cameras that can be pointed at him.

For the price of a ticket -- assuming the Patriots as an organization can't find a free ticket somewhere -- the Pats can put a guy in Row 12 with a video camera and record the opposing team's defensive signals to their heart's content. But because the guy's standing on the sidelines it's cheating? Kinda nutty, don't you think?

The Patriots may have been trying to steal the Jets' signals for immediate or future use, but there's nothing wrong with stealing signals. It's a fine and respectable art. If it weren't, teams wouldn't need signals that are coded.


The problem is when teams get sneaky about it, hiding a spy in some cranny of the home stadium that the visitors don't have access to or using listening devices to spy on huddles or locker-room meetings. Where a team has an expectation of privacy, it should get privacy. A guy standing on the sideline and flashing semaphores to the middle linebacker can't expect privacy. Again: That's why the signals are coded. That's why the code should be changed every now and again.

The Jets and Patriots are bitter rivals who aren't shy about accusing each other of all kinds of dastardly deeds, so it's worth noting that this accusation came from the league, not the Jets, and that the Jets don't seem to be using it as an excuse for having their hats handed to them on Sunday. I don't think the Jets have a signal, after all, for "let Ellis Hobbs run a kickoff back 108 yards."

If what the Patriots did to the Jets Sunday is cheating, then what the Pittsburgh Steelers did to the Cleveland Browns is cheating too.

The Steelers had way better football players. Is that fair?

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Quick question for Notre Dame fans [PERMALINK]

Who ya liking right now, Charlie Weis or Ty Willingham?

Previous column: Ode to Ron Jaworski

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