Jerry Kill suffered his fourth seizure in 22 games as head coach of Minnesota on Saturday, raising a question that is awkward to ask about any grown man, much less one as kindly as Jerry Kill. And make no mistake, this is a kindly man. When he was coaching Southern Illinois, Kill started a foundation to help low-income patients fight cancer.
But make no mistake about this, too: Jerry Kill's epilepsy is a major concern -- and not just for Jerry Kill.
There will be people, maybe even most people who read this story, who will fall back on the default position that Kill is a grown man; if he wants to risk dying on the sideline -- doing what he loves -- that's his choice.
And you know what? In a vacuum, that's 100 percent correct. If Jerry Kill is OK with the risk to himself, who are any of us to tell him he's wrong? That's not our business.
But this issue, and these seizures, aren't happening in a vacuum. They're happening on game day, often right there on the sideline. This is an issue that's bigger than Jerry Kill and the personal risks he's willing to assume. What about the risks everyone else assumes? What if he has a fatal seizure during a game, in full view of the stadium?
That's our business.
And that seems to be a legitimate risk, given that Jerry Kill has suffered four seizures in 22 games. The math is pretty easy: Since being hired by Minnesota before the 2011 season, Kill has suffered a seizure every five or six games -- and the frequency is increasing. He has suffered three seizures in the last 11 games, and was unable to finish two of them.
This is a problem, and a heartbreaking problem at that. You think this is me, coldly and unsympathetically wondering if Jerry Kill should resign? Don't think that. This is me feeling terrible for a man who has devoted much of his life to football, and who reached the pinnacle of his profession in 2011 when he made it into the Big Ten as a head coach -- and who is doing a great job. At Minnesota his teams have gone 3-9, then 6-7, and now 3-0 early in 2013.
Of course Jerry Kill doesn't want to resign. He wants to keep using his platform to raise money for low-income cancer patients, and to keep using his platform to raise awareness about epilepsy. He's a spokesman at the state and national levels, and he and his wife, Rebecca, are acting as hosts for a second annual epilepsy awareness game Oct. 26 vs. Nebraska.
Kill is doing good work for Minnesota football, and for epilepsy patients, and I'm thinking about that as I write this.
But I'm also thinking about everyone else in the stadium the next time Kill has a seizure during a game, whether it's at home or on the road. People die from epileptic seizures. It's called Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and according to EpilepsyFoundation.org it happens to about one in 1,000 epilepsy sufferers per year. But the odds go way up for people who, like Kill, have more frequent seizures -- as high as one in 150 people.
Could Jerry Kill be that one in 150? Gosh I hope not. You hope nobody dies from epilepsy ever again, but denial doesn't do any good. People really do die every year from epileptic seizures, and Jerry Kill really does have multiple seizures every year, and his seizures really do seem to be increasing in frequency, exacerbated by the stress of coaching a Big Ten football team on game day.
That's Jerry Kill's job. But should it be? I'm not asking for him. Apparently he's decided what's best for him, and that's his right.
But what about what's best for everyone else?
Who gets to make that decision?