COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are two huge, important stories on campus here this week.
1. Fans can't wait for Ohio State's spring game on Saturday.
2. A faction of those fans -- call them get-a-lifers -- are hopping mad that Ohio State is changing its jerseys. The gray part of the proud Scarlet and Gray has all but been left off the new tops. Looks too much like Nebraska, Wisconsin or even -- yuck! -- Indiana, they say.
|Jim Tressel is still haunted by the practice tape of injured Tyson Gentry, who is in the hospital. (Getty Images)|
"Woody," read one reaction, "is turning over in his grave."
Yeah, we know. What is mundane to you and me is practically life threatening to such people. We use that term cautiously to put in perspective what life threatening really means.
It can be argued confidently that the condition of walk-on receiver Tyson Gentry does not crack the top two huge, important list this week. Gentry lays in OSU Medical Center at this moment with a neck injury, suffered while being tackled during spring practice on Friday. The kid from Sandusky, Ohio, was dragged down from behind, fell awkwardly, and then laid motionless after the play, fearing the worst.
"He was scared to death," coach Jim Tressel said. "He was saying, 'I have no feeling.'"
Gentry's parents were in the stands. Tressel immediately cancelled practice. The day's practice tape still haunts the coach. It runs out with Gentry on the ground.
"There he is, lying there," Tressel said. "He was so motionless, talking the whole time."
Now, try to understand the huge, important subject to the zealots who have burrowed through to Tressel's e-mail.
"I got maybe two e-mails on that," Tressel said of Gentry. "(I got) hundreds of e-mails on what idiots we are for changing jerseys. ... You wonder about the psyche of today's person." On the 100th anniversary of the NCAA, it's harder than ever to get tragedy right. While a scared kid is in a hospital, thousands of fans are gearing up for a Saturday tailgate to watch an exhibition game. This, of course, is not just an Ohio State phenomenon. It's the culture of, well, us.
The NCAA -- really a precursor to the association back then -- was formed in 1906 as a response to a rash of deaths in the emerging sport of football. We don't want to dwell on that, we just want to know that football is. Spare us the casualties.
But sometimes you have to give the public what it needs, instead of what it wants. Consider:
- The last player to die due to injuries suffered in a game was Washington's Curtis Williams, less than four years ago. Williams was paralyzed making a tackle in 2000 and died 18 months later.
- The NCAA's catastrophic injury insurance deductibles have skyrocketed over the years.
- Mouth guards weren't "recommended" until 1962.
- The NCAA didn't require helmets until 1939, the year Joe Paterno turned 13.
It's time to ask again: How safe are players and shouldn't we care more when they aren't?
"I'm assuming we are doing everything we can do for safety," Tressel added. "This (Gentry injury) could have been in your backyard. ... You think to yourself, 'Man, that is so dangerous doing some of the things we do. The bigger and faster we get, theoretically, the collisions are harder.' This had nothing to do with that."
But in the middle of preparing for the spring game, Tressel opened a Fed Ex package on Tuesday and found a new helmet from a manufacturer.
"With the inference that, '(Gentry's injury) wouldn't have happened if you were wearing my helmets,'" the coach said.
Football injuries are the NCAA, always will be. Once again: It was formed 100 years ago in response to a concern over deaths in the emerging sport. Without the NCAA, there might not be college football. But let's get the rah-rah reform story right.
Walk into the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis and you are greeted with an imposing sculpture of the infamous flying wedge. The blocking strategy was dangerous, for sure, but the existence of the sculpture at the national headquarters is just one of the problems.
The flying wedge was banned in 1894, 12 years before the NCAA was formed, according to historian John Watterson.
Plus, Watterson added: "They've got too many people in the flying wedge. It was a formation of five and they've got six people in it."
"Because it's life size it gets the point across," said Watterson who has rewritten some of the Hall's football plaques to make them more historically accurate.
The point: The NCAA is the benevolent big brother.
The constant reality: No one can tell you when the next Curtis Williams or Tyson Gentry will happen.
Not to pile on the NCAA, because it sets safety standards, players wear state-of-the-art equipment and have space-age medical care. Catastrophic injuries last spiked in the 1960s.
Things are better -- and they aren't. What Tressel can't say -- or even contemplate -- is that those sympathetic Gentry e-mails probably would have multiplied had the receiver been a starter. Or that this might have become more of a national story if Duke lacrosse or Barry Bonds weren't dominating the headlines.
While the Buckeyes -- CBS SportsLine.com's preseason No. 1 -- chug toward to the spring game, Gentry lies in the same Columbus hospital as Penn State's Adam Taliaferro, a tragic reminder. Taliaferro shattered his fifth vertebrae in 2000 making tackle late in a game against Ohio State. He eventually walked again after spinal fusion surgery.
Gentry already has endured two surgeries. Teammates can't visit, in part, because of concerns about infection. That only heightens their anxiety. Their minds already are split between thinking about their teammate and solidifying their spot on the team.
"I know inside the team, people could care less about the jersey," fullback Stan White Jr. said. "We want to be there for our brother as much as we can."
At the same time, there has to be another thought: Could that be me?
"What keeps everybody going is the love of the game," quarterback Troy Smith said. "I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm sure every other player out there has that same motivation. You can't play with that fear."
Or change a football culture -- our culture -- that reacts more emotionally to a uniform change than an injured walk-on.