Marquise Gaddy, a football player at Winston-Salem State University, severely injured his spine and neck after colliding with a teammate in practice.

Devon Gales, a Southern University wide receiver and member of the special teams unit, fractured his spine Saturday against while covering a kick against Georgia.


Just a little more than a month into the 2015 season, three high school football players across the country have died after sustaining in-game injuries. Others, like Texas junior high school football player Jasiel Favors, have been paralyzed or concussed or had their limbs mangled in some way.

Football is exciting, stimulating and breathtaking. It is a sport designed — like all of them — to take advantage of our natural tribalism and yearning for self-worth.

The sport, unlike few, is one that places the very individuals we put all of our hopes, dreams, bragging rights and fantasy football results in constant peril.

When an athlete like Gales lay motionless on the field, the all too familiar scene of players representing both teams taking a knee and praying silently to whatever god they believe in that the injured has the ability to function takes place. Spectators in the bleachers sit or stand in stunned disbelief at the horrific sight in front of them.

Once the athlete is removed from the field by first responders, the games and the practices – as always – continue. The violence and carnage returns like the broken body that was on the field moments before never existed.

We are desensitized to it all. We accept it comes with the territory; the injuries, the big hits, the concussions and the shattered bodies that sometimes have to be rushed to a hospital from the field of competition and sliced open by surgeons to save them.

I’m not the first, nor will be the last person to sound the football-is-dangerous alarm. You know that already. The players, parents, coaches and everyone else also understand this. It’s why we recklessly attempt to equate football to war and use military jargon to describe the game.  Maybe because football is so much like war with the prospect of horrific injuries and death a sobering reality.

We used to pray that our young men come home in one piece after a tour of duty in some foreign land where they’d be in the midst of bullets and missiles. Now we do the same before sending them off to a football field.

But that won’t stop me from wincing upon witnessing an extraordinary collision between two or more armored bodies on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

I think about that athlete’s current physical state after absorbing such blows.

I think about how difficult it will be for each athlete in the days after battle attempting to recover so they can do it all over again the next week. I think about that athlete’s life once the competition is a distant memory.

I especially think about Gaddy and Gales, college kids who took all the risks for free so that we can brag or vent on social media or message boards after conquests or defeats.

Kids like them play this game of chance while millions of dollars are made off them in exchange for throwing their bodies into each other on Saturdays and they get no compensation in return.

They don’t have the safety net of a pension, union or a multi million-dollar contract to fall back on, which places these devastating injuries in further perspective.

I hope Gaddy and Gales able to live the lives they dreamed of upon recovery even though football — a game that provides a vehicle for dreams to be realized  — nearly took them away.

Kendrick Marshall
Editor for HBCU Sports, award-winning journalist, and a graduate of Jackson State University.

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1 Comment

  1. “…college kids who took all the risks for free so that we can brag or vent on social media or message boards after conquests or defeats.”

    I think you left out the point that most college kids who play a sport have two motivations for doing so, being able to move on to professional sports and/or getting a free education in exchange for playing. They aren’t really playing for free, in that they are bartering their game playing for a really expensive college education, and if their playing allows them the exposure to move on to the pro level then they have benefitted even more. They aren’t being used without their knowledge in a totally callous way.

    As a former teacher I’ve always questioned the point of emphasizing sports over academics, especially when it gets to the college level. I agree with your cringing at the hard hits that injure the players in a serious way, and when they are in high school or college know that the kids don’t know the realities of serious injury on their lives in the future. That’s something the parents have to be aware of when allowing their kids to play sports, deciding when to allow them to start, monitoring the coach and practice standards, knowing what the team doctors are capable of and what their protocols are for on field emergency treatment.

    Stuff happens and you never know when. As a parent and a student you have to weigh the opportunities against the risks. It’s not easy to make those decisions, but the question becomes whether you live your life in fear or you allow people to take reasonable risks and reach for their dreams through playing sports, going to college, participating in activities they enjoy or just living independent lives.

    My parent’s were staying at my sister’s house 13 years ago to celebrate her birthday. Dad and my brother in law decided to take a weekend motorcycle trip to Colorado Springs, while Mom and my sister stayed in Boulder to chill. Overnight Friday Mom stood on her bed to turn on a ceiling fan because it was hot, lost her balance and fell off, hitting her neck on a dresser before landing on the floor. She laid there calling for help about 20 minutes before my sister’s dogs woke her up and 911 was called. Mom was taken to the hospital around 4am where she was told there was a dislocation of the C-3,4,5 vertebra with significant swelling damaging the nerves, leaving her an incomplete quadriplegic. She has no functional movement from the neck down, just as Christopher Reeve had, although she can breathe on her own.

    Mom was a healthy 71 year old who walked about 6 miles every day, travelled lots, had no medical problems. She didn’t play sports, didn’t take risks, didn’t do anything that was considered dangerous. But she did violate a rule she’d fussed at us about when we were kids, she stood up on a bed and fell off.

    You never know what’s going to happen in life. The decisions aren’t easy, they have to be reasonable and sensible. When young people play football today they are better protected by better padding and helmets, better conditioning rules prohibiting head to head tackles all to protect against spinal injuries and traumatic brain injuries as well as future dementia; there’s better on field emergency treatment and hospital protocol to deal with injuries and limit damage after the initial injury; there is better rehab to allow for quality outcomes for those injured and information for the patient and caregivers, as well as support services. All of these changes came out of the sports injuries of Christopher Reeve and Marc Buoniconti whose foundations have worked to improve the outcomes of spinal cord injuries since their experiences. My mom even benefitted from the things that I was able to learn from the people associated with their websites, although it is young men like Gaddy and Gales who benefit the most. There are amazing programs now that help them recover incredible amounts of function after injury, provide extraordinary physical rehab equipment and therapists to aid their recovery and keep them conditioned, and aid them in realizing their potential in career fields for the future.

    Personally I’d encourage these two young men and their families to contact the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and the Project for a Cure for further information on programs for rehab and assistance regarding everything to do with the immediate situation going forward (that’s how I came to your article, trying to find a way to politely contact each family with this suggestion, because that’s my responsibility to share what I know since Mom’s injury). Then I’d encourage them to go to the Facebook pages of Jack Jablonski, Kevin Everett and Eric LeGrand, three athletes who suffered spinal cord injuries and have remarkable lives post injury.

    Thank you for writing about this subject and considering all the issues it involves. The emotional, physical, spiritual and financial costs of these injuries are immense. I’d encourage the friends and family of these players to offer as much assistance and support as possible. I think both have had GoFundMe accounts set up for them, and I can’t emphasize the tremendous cost that is not covered by medical insurance so I hope they get help funding those needs.

    It’s ok to share my email contact if someone needs assistance Mr. Marshall.

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