National Columnist

Don't let Kevin Ware's story get lost in mess of misguided agendas

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ATLANTA -- Kevin Ware is not a cause. He is not an agenda. And he is not someone to be used by those who do have a cause, and who do have an agenda, and who do lack the conscience or the class to know better.

Ware, a sophomore guard at Louisville, has been used -- his pain, his screaming, not to mention our shock at what we saw -- since suffering that horrible broken leg Sunday during the Midwest Regional final at Indianapolis. Hand-wringers and agenda-pushers have used Kevin Ware's agony for their advantage.

Athletic scholarships are renewable annually. That's a fact. Sometimes a kid loses his scholarship for harsh reasons, like not being good enough. That's also a fact. These are facts people have known and complained about for years, but now people have a face -- and a broken leg -- to attach to their cause. So in the past few days the noise has reached a crescendo that the NCAA is evil and Louisville needs to be watched closely because, if we turn our back on athletic director Tom Jurich and coach Rick Pitino, they might just yank that scholarship away from Kevin Ware. And then, as this story at Salon.com posited, Ware would be stuck with a small fortune in medical bills.

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Unconscionable.

Not the idea that Jurich and Pitino would do that to Kevin Ware, because they wouldn't. They wouldn't because it's the wrong thing to do, but even if you're a cynic and refuse to put anything past anyone, then believe this: Louisville wouldn't do it because the public relations beating would be legendary. Either way, Louisville wouldn't do it. And everyone knows that.

Which means people -- and it wasn't just Salon.com; it was Forbes and it was Fox and, yes, it was CBS -- are using Kevin Ware's splintered leg as a window into the NCAA's soul.

And I don't think people really care about Kevin Ware's medical bills. They're angry at the NCAA. But Ware's injury offers a hypothetical that's just too good to waste, so they use it as the grotesque hammer -- the news peg, as we call it in my business -- to nail the NCAA.

It's not just the scholarship issue. It's the financial hypocrisy of the system, too. Players get their scholarship, and that's great, but schools are making tens of millions of dollars off their labor, and coaches are making several million a year, and even assistant coaches can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. The players have the scholarship, and that's great, but scholarships don't always cover the full cost of tuition. Players have been known to graduate and owe their school thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars. And unless those players are moving on to a career in professional sports, they're stuck. It's a bad system. I've attacked it myself.

But to use Kevin Ware's injury to attack the system? Awful. Ware isn't a sandwich board to be worn by protesters. He's a real person, a young kid who suffered an injury that might not be career-threatening -- thank you, really, to everyone who has lectured us that a torn ACL is worse than that piddly broken bone suffered by Ware -- but was one of the most shocking, sickening injuries we've ever seen.

And yet people are using his injury to poke Louisville for daring to make T-shirts, maybe even sell those T-shirts, in support of Ware. The idea started in the Louisville locker room, where players wanted to honor Ware -- a Georgia native denied this once-in-a-lifetime chance of playing in the Final Four in Georgia -- with a shirt they would wear during pregame warmups on Saturday night.

The idea was passed around the school, and the school knew its fans would want to buy whatever shirt is being worn by the team on the biggest stage in college basketball. So the school offered the shirt for sale to its fans. Any idea how much the school would make from the sale of those shirts? Peanuts. Nothing, really. Not for a school whose athletic budget approaches $70 million. But still, to avoid looking craven, the athletic department told apparel partner Adidas that it didn't want the profits. Whatever money was generated, send it to the school's general scholarship fund. The team just wanted the shirt.

People freaked out. They freaked out so much that Louisville took the shirt off its website, denying Louisville fans a tangible opportunity to rally even more around Kevin Ware.

But the team still plans to wear the shirt during warmups on Saturday night, a Louisville staffer told me. That's why the shirt was made in the first place. That's where this started.

Where does it end? It doesn't end. Not yet, anyway. Even PETA is using Kevin Ware to further its agenda, its agenda being the protection of animals. What does Kevin Ware's injury have to do with animals? Not a single damn thing, but that hasn't stopped PETA from using Ware's broken leg to bring attention to the broken legs suffered by racehorses.

In the abstract, PETA has a point. Horses do suffer breakdowns in racing, and they do die, and it is heartbreaking. According to the email PETA sent me and other journalists this week -- the one analogizing Kevin Ware to a broken-down racehorse -- "more than 1,000 horses endure fatal breakdowns on U.S. racetracks every year."

It's terrible, what happens to horses. But to use Kevin Ware's suffering as the flashlight to shine on this issue? Also terrible -- but typical of PETA, an organization that is an example of a good idea gone very wrong.

Here's an actual sentence from PETA's email:

"During a recent PETA investigation, the great-granddaughter of legendary Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew sustained a compound fracture of her leg, just like Mr. Ware ..."

Save the animals. Save the scholarships. Pay the players.

Oh ... and get well soon, Kevin Wayne. Or whatever your name is.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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