Posted by: mdegeorge | February 20, 2011

Weekly Diagnosis: February 20

The diagnosis is back after a work schedule-induced week’s hiatus that prevented my commentary on last week’s big story, the heartwarming donation of a kidney by Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter to one of his players. While some of the stories reached new depths of stupidity – all together now, “Roll Tide!!!” – the week also featured the soft side of the NBA’s Slam Dunk champ, the dangerous side of idiocy, and yet another tragic tale too many form the NFL.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

On the way to the fast lane

One of the big stories of local interest here in the Philadelphia area from a certain paper at which I am employed as been the ongoing saga of Chichester High School wrestler and football player Mazeratti Mitchell.

Mitchell injured his spine in a scrimmage on the mats on Feb. 1 in which he was flipped on his head and lost feeling in his extremities. He was rushed to the hospital, where drug treatments and surgical options were denied by his parents, devout advocates of alternative medical techniques such as “herbs, reflexology, and spine manipulation.”

The Delaware County Department of Human Services Office of Children and Youth Services filed suit against the parents and was granted custody of the 16-year-old, OK-ing the necessary surgical procedures. Friday, Mitchell was released from the hospital to a rehab center for further treatment.

Mitchell, a promising football player and a nice kid, has been caught in the middle of a storm the ramifications of which he probably doesn’t fully understand. But individual beliefs and legal hand-wringing aside, the most important thing is that Mitchell is where he needs to be: on the road to recovery. When you’re a 16-year-old with your entire life in front of you, that’s all that matters.

Say it ain’t Ricco

The compulsion, obsession, or whatever you choose to call it to enhance one’s performance by the use of illegal drugs is always driven in some part by a desire to win. One cyclist almost ensured he would never lose another bicycle race again.

Though that’s because he almost died due to complications of a do-it-yourself blood transfusion that caused his kidneys to fail and sent him to the hospital in critical condition.

That was most of the week for serial doper and permanent dope Riccardo Ricco. The Italian mountain goat, who’s only a few months removed from a two-year suspension for Continuous Erythropoeisis Receptor Activator (CERA) during his wins on Stages 6 and 9 of the 2008 Tour de France, took ill when a transfusion he was performing went awry and put him in a serious spot of bother. In addition to kidney issues, he also was being looked at for heart and lung difficulties.

The Cobra, as he was known, was provisionally suspended by Dutch team Vacansoliel before being fired Friday. He’s facing a lifetime ban for his second doping offense, which quite frankly at this point, if he doesn’t get it, the entire system needs to be reevaluated. If this isn’t a signed, sealed, and delivered case, then I really don’t know what is (that is, of course, unless I’m grossly underestimating the popularity of transfusable vitamins in Europe.)

Hopefully, the story of Ricco’s doping addiction will serve as a warning of how dangerous a practice it is. We can only hope Ricco himself will be there to teach a new generation of cyclist the lesson in person.

The compassionate Mr. Griffin

Blake Griffin’s life isn’t all about jumping over cars and providing the ridiculous oops to John Wall’s equally sensational alleys.

The superstar-in-the-making also showed his vulnerable side this week when news that high school friend and Tulsa offensive lineman Wilson Holloway had passed away. Holloway, who suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the last three years, lost his battle late Wednesday at age 22. The two were friends from their days at Oklahoma Christian School and had kept in constant contact during his illness.

Holloway was profiled by ESPN’s Pat Forde during the 2008 season when he was first diagnosed and managed to play six games while undergoing chemotherapy for the softball-sized mass in his chest. He entered remission initially, but the cancer returned later that fall.

After reacting tearfully to the news after the Clippers win over Minnesota Wednesday, Griffin sat down with ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez and talked about his fallen friend, including plans he had to meet up with Holloway on an upcoming road trip to Oklahoma City.

Holloway’s story is an inspirational one that Forde tells excellently. He and Griffin had a genuinely close friendship, and as Griffin’s interview sincerely shows, Holloway was certainly loved and will be missed.

Yet another NFL wake up call

In the midst of what could become an unprecedented bout of labor strife, the NFL was delivered another reminder of one of its many failings with the suicide of former player and player advocate Dave Duerson Thursday.

Reports surfaced later in the week that prior to shooting himself in the chest, Duerson sent text messages to family members imploring them to donate his brain to Boston University’s Center for the Study for Traumatic Encephalopathy, which has explored the brains of numerous deceased contact-sport stars. So far, 13 of the 14 brains of sports stars examined by the institute have found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease likely caused by chronic concussions and repeated blows to the head that contributes to lack of mental functionality, impaired judgment, and emotional instability including severe depression in athletes. In addition, evidence of CTE has been founded in murder-suicide wrestler Chris Benoit as well as University of Pennsylvania football player Owen Thomas, who committed suicide in April.

Duerson played 11 seasons in the NFL as a safety for the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, winning two Super Bowls and appearing in four Pro Bowls. He was a successful businessman for many years in his post-playing days and was one of three former players on a six-person committee formed by the NFL to rule on disability claims for retired players.

The NFL was disturbingly mute on the situation, with the always loquacious Roger Goodell apparently too busy to offer more of a quote than, “He’s a good man. It’s sad.”

It’s time for the classless Goodell and the rest of his bickering cronies among ownership and the Players’ Union to realize the enormity of this problem. We’re not talking about a guy like Barrett Robbins here, someone who many saw as a thug and unstable lunatic. Duerson graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in economics and studied at the Harvard School of Business. If there was a man who had the pedigree of someone who could cope outside the world of football, he was it. The failure of the sham committee Duerson was once a part of to effectively legislate on most of the issues presented it (seriously, how the #@%* do you create a committee without an odd number of members so as to avoid deadlocks?!?!) and Goodell’s six-word serenade for one of the growing problems in his league show that the league is paying the issue mere lip service. The question now becomes, how many former players have to die horribly shocking deaths before the idea that a decade of knocking heads in the pro ranks leads to cognitive difficulties later in life?

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