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Unformatted text preview: lilaying through pain: The risk behind American football culture — Daily Targum « Sports Page 1 of 8 Login I subscribe Search The Daily Targum ' Search Playing through pain: The risk behind American football culture By Sam Hellman Correspondent Published: Tuesday, Apri127, 2010 Updated: Friday, April 30, 2010 01:04 As a culture, America fell in iove with the idea of playing injured long ago. From Curt Schilling and his bloody sock to Donovan McNabb's victory over the Cardinals on a broken ankle, every sports franchise and every city has a story or legend. With one eye, Americans salivate over the phenomenal careers of legends like Muhammad Ali, but close the other eye to the Parkinson's disease—riddled man that is a shadow of his former self —— all because he risked . _. ._ am Hellman his body for the competitiveness instilled in him at a ' _ Kevin Saum IS a team manager With the young age- Rutgers football team after suffering second~ As powerful as this notion is on the professional level, impact Syndrome While Playing at We“ pain is considered part of the game on every level. Morris central High 5611001. This article examines five young men's stories through a culture Where injuries are a part of the game. These five Rutgers students, all football players at some point in their iives, came together as a part of a class project m» speaking to high schools in Highland Park and Monroe Township about a culture that put them all at risk. All have stories to tell. All risked their bodies and futures, sometimes literally life and limb, for the concept of team, famin and the love of the game. All carry regret for brash, dangerous decisions and some continue to imagine —— what if. -X--X--X- Playing tailback for West Morris Central High School, Kevin Saum had aspirations of coliege football. Sauna was not the turn~heads running back with Division I scholarship offers appearing left and right, but local subdivision schools showed enough interest that he dreamt http://www.dailytargum.com/sports/playing—through~pain~the-risk-behind«american~footb... 1 0/2 1/201 0 Elaying through pain: The risk behind American football culture ~ Daily Targum — Sports Page 2 of 8 of a future on the college field. Then, as a senior and team captain, Saum made a life— altering mistake —- he did not report an injury and it cost him his football career, and nearly his life. Saum suffered a minor concussion during a game, but never told his coaches or trainers. He did not think it was anything more than a headache and did not want to let his team down. So the next week, he popped three Advil and returned to the gridiron, needle-sharp pains splitting his head in two. One half of football iater, Saum was on his way to the hospital fighting for his life. "Towards the end of the second quarter, 1 got hit hard Sam Hellman one more time and this time I got hit right underneath Kent pgayed with the Rutgers football team, my chin and I slammed my head on the ground,“ but “fired a W3“ f’tmger during training cam nor to 3.115 senior ear Saum said. "As soon as I stood up, I couldn‘t even feel my legs. I got really scared. My heart just sunk into my chest and I really thought something was wrong." Saum collapsed on the sidelines, went into shock and respiratory failure — breathing just three times per minute. The big hit on Saum forced a second, more serious concussion, leading to second~impact syndrome, or . . . Dan Bracagha / Senior Staff Photographer more Simply, a concussmn on another concusszon. . . , , , Senior midfielder on the Rutgers men’s Repeated bram 1nJur1es over an extended perlod of lacrosse team, Brendan Porter, :31 aye d high time result in neurological and cognitive damage, SChOOl football and learned at an early age that the mind tires before the body, according a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease prompting him to Play through yam Control and Frevention, but multipie brain injuries within a span of days can be "catastrophic or fatal." "The Sunday after the game I had craniotomy to relieve the pressure on my brain,” Saum said. "They drilled a hole in my skull and released the blood that was building up in my brain. If too much pressure buiids up, you could die. It was definitely the most excruciating pain I've ever been through in my life." Nearly three years later, Saum is a sophomore at Rutgers. His football career is long over because of second-impact syndrome, but he works with the Rutgers football team as a team http://www.dailytargum.corn/sports/playing—through~pain—the«risknbehind-american—footb... 10/21/2610 Playing through pain: The risk behind American footbail culture — Daily Targurn - Sports Fage 3 of 8 manager because of his passion. "That was my ultimate dream," Saurn said. "I wanted to play college football. And since E didn't tell anyone and I played with that concussion, I can't." Saum works with the running backs - his former position — on the football team. He sees it as the closest he can come to his dream "I guess I do it because it feels like I'm still kind of part of it," Saum said. "That's what I miss most about it. This is as close as I can get without actualiy playing." Not reporting his first concussion is a mistake that Sauna expects to haunt him for a long time. In a culture where toughness is idolized and personal safety is in low-regard, reporting something like a headache is a sign of weakness — something that a team captain never shows. "I'm lucky to even be alive," Saum said. "I almost died for my team and honestly, now that II think about it, even if I went back and I had to make the same decision again, I would still have a hard time not playing and disappointing the team." *9H6 One of the worst feelings for Stephante Kent in the days after his emergency trip to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital was that it could have been prevented. Kent, a former fullback and linebacker for the Rutgers and La Salle football teams, became a casualty last year of August two~a-days. Working at fullback and competing for a starting job as a senior, Kent went head—to—head with a teammate on a bone-crushing hit. The next thing he knew, he was bound for Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in the back of an ambulance. "On that day, I guess my neck gave out," Kent said. “I was getting really stiff at night and it just wasn't keeping up with all of the training and hitting that we were doing. Once the injury occurred, I felt like everything was shock. It just stopped completely. I couldn’t really move." The official diagnosis was a major stinger -- a neurological injury in sport where the spinal cord is undamaged. For Kent, it ended his chances at a starting job. "I can handle pain because I've played sports all my life,“ Kent said. "That was just excruciating. It was pain that I‘ve never felt before. It was a serious injury at the time rather than just a regular pain you play throng ." For nearly all of training camp, Kent suffered from nagging headaches, stiffness and neck pain. He told the Rutgers training staff about a series of problems with his neck and got all of the treatment he could, but decided to keep playing anyway. Kent knew the risk he was taking and knows, after the fact, that his stubbornness to play on an injured neck caused his major stinger. http://www.dailytargum.com/sports/piaying—through—pain-the—risk—behind—american-footb... 10/21/2010 Playing through pain: The risk behind American football culture - Daily Targum ~ Sports Page 4 of 8 Kent grew up in the school of hard knocks. in his mind, if you can physically play, then play. There is no sense in letting your team down if you can be out there helping. Knowing the results of playing hurt, Kent said he would still make the same decision. "Nine out of 10 [times] I would," Kent said. "Because i’m a football player. That's my nature — to compete." tern in college football, there are upwards of 110 members of each team, but only about 60 see the field each year and there are only 22 starting jobs to go around. So when you get your chance, you treat it as the only opportunity you have and do everything you can to keep it. That‘s the way Remo Fioranelli, a former tight end and defensive end for the Rutgers football team sees it. But for the 6~foot-3, 250—pound Wayne, N.J., native, his mantra of toughness came back to bite him. As a freshman, Fioranelli hurt his shoulder, but took a cortisone shot from the training staff and tried to fight through it, shrugging it off as tendonitis shooting up his bicep. He played through the pain and performed relatively well as a member of the scout team. But before his sophomore year, the trainers took another look at his shoulder and diagnosed it as a torn shoulder - torn the entire way around and detached from the bone. Fioranelli missed eight months with a torn shoulder — one that he could have prevented if he . did not continue playing during his freshman year. "I did have worry and fear because I knew i was basically starting over," Fioranelli said. "When you're a freshman, you're on the scout team and you're trying to work your way up. I was doing that. I was getting Scout Team Player of the Week during the weeks and I was really doing well. When I tore my shoulder, I realized everything I did was forgotten." Fioranelli made the same decision with his hip in high school and, yet again, it came back to haunt him. A torn hip cut Fioraneili‘s senior season with the Scarlet Knights short and it came as a result of another unreported injury. Seven years prior, as a freshman defensive end at Wayne Valley High School, he sacked an opposing quarterback and snagged his hip on a rock severely enough to bother him down the road. "I never really got it fixed," Fioranelli said. "I was like: ‘You know what? It was just pain. I'll tough it out.‘ Now that I think about it, those are the injuries that led to the end of my career." éHG-éi' Brendan Porter hasn’t touched a football for competitive purposes in four years, but the lessons he learned from football in his'youth, both good and bad, stick with him as a senior http://www.dailytargum.com/sports/piaying-through-pain—the-risk—behind—american-footb... 10/21/2010 Playing through pain: The risk behind American'foot‘oali culture — Daily Targum - Sports Page 5 of 8 midfielder for the Rutgers men's lacrosse team. Porter, who recently played in his final home game for the Scarlet Knights, participated in everything from baseball to swimming as a youth, but football ingrained a style of play within I him that drives him to risk his body. He played defensive end and wide receiver at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., but opted to play lacrosse at the next level. ‘ "From a young age, I was always told, ‘No pain, no gain,‘" Porter said. "You're not pushing your body to the next level, you're not going to be better when you get old. From a young age, I was told that I need to push myself past what I think that I can do." His Pop Warner coach gave him a piece of advice long ago that still sticks with him and drives his actions. His coach told him "the mind tires before the body." As a 6—foot—4 midfielder, Porter battled through a series of ankle injuries during his college career and he did his best to play through them because he believed the mind tired before the body. When facing Georgetown, his parents‘ alrna mater, as a sophomore, Porter tried to cover up a sprained ankle just so he could play. As a result, his injury only got worse. I "I think that from a young age, [my coach's advice] being instilled in me, was probably the main reason I did it," Porter said. "I felt it made me weaker and I didn't want to seem weak in front of my teammates or to myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I was toug .” Looking back on a career of playing through pain and injuries alike, Porter is filled with regret. "When I look back on the different injuries that I've had, especially the ones I didn’t report, I do regret them because they stick with you," he said. "Later on down the road, it‘s kind of hard to get rid of that injury because I know I still have problems with my shoulder when I bench press because I didn't report a shoulder injury. I know that when I squat, more times than not I can't, because I didn't report different injuries." *it-lt Even the lucky ones, the ones who avoid career-threatening injuries, don't walk away unscathed. Alan Ajamian, another graduating senior at Rutgers and former member of the football team, never had what he considered a career~threatening injury. Ajarnian played on the scout team as a running back and linebacker for the Scarlet Knights and was a three—year starter at the same positions for Seton Hall Prep in high school. During his seven years as an elite athlete, he went through everything from concussions, to dislocated fingers to bad knees. "I think Whether you're in peewee or high school or college or the pros, you have lingering http://www.dailytargum.corn/sports/playing-duough-pain—the~risk—behind~american~footb... 10/21/2010 Playing through pain: The risk behind American football culture - Daily Targum — Sports Page 6 of 8 injuries that are going to take place," Ajamian said. "Even now I have problems with my shoulder and my knee. It's something that a lot of players know going in that you're going to I have bumps and bruises. It's something that’s really going to stay with you the rest of your life." Throughout his football career, Ajamian was as stubborn as they get. He didn't tell anyone when he dislocated three fingers in a game because he wanted to keep playing. He knowingly suffered a concussion while playing in high school, but didn't tell anyone because he wanted to keep playing. "I knew right away when it happened," he said. "You kind of black out for a second and your eyes get blurry. After that I kind of just kept playing. It really wasn't the smartest move, but it was kind of my decision that I made." The only times injuries actually kept him off the field were when he physically couldn't move. He got fluid drained from his knee after it immobilized him during preseason drills one season. And to a hungry football player with higher aspirations, sitting out provided more emotional pain than any injury could. "I felt really immobile and kind of helpless,” he said. “It was really a weird feeling seeing another guy in your position when he's contributing and I‘m not. It was kind of tough to get over." 9936* Like every other field across the country, injuries happen every day on Schiano's practice field or at Rutgers Stadium. During the team‘s spring practice campaign, walk-on receiver ?hil Lewis severely broke his arm, starting center Howard Barbieri injured his knee badly enough to miss the spring and redshirt freshman guard Antwan Lowery suffered the same fate because of a hand injury. In recent Rutgers football memory, tailback Kordell Young had three season—ending knee surgeries, defensive end Jamaal Westerman played half of a season on a torn bicep muscle and quarterback Tom Savage returned from a concussion to put together a strong second half of his freshman campaign. Schiano said he knows injuries are part of the game, but risking further injury shouldn‘t be. "You have to be honest — 100 percent honest," Schiano said on encouraging Players to not keep injuries secret. "It doesn’t do us any good for the heroes, you know, the guys who don't report their injuries. I tell them we have professional trainers w the best in America —— and the doctors are the best in America. They‘re going to get you out there." ‘ Kent, Remo Fioranelli and Alan Ajamian all admit keeping bumps and bruises quiet for one http://www.dailytargum.com/sports/playingnthrough-pain-the-risk—behind~american-footb... 10/21/2010 Piaying through pain: The risk behind American football culture - Daily Targum - Sports Page 7 of 8 reason or another and they all say there's no way they are the only ones. Whether players do it to keep their Spot on the depth chart or keep the respect of their teammates, it is a given that training staffs won't know everything. "I always felt that if I report an injury, it would show that I was soft and weak," said Fioranelli, a former tight end and defensive end for the Rutgers football team. "Growing up my father never tolerated crying about injuries or pains. It works and I'm a tough guy for it, but it destroyed my career." Sehiano's goal is to make sure that, at the least, everyone is educated. "We need to know if you‘re hurt or bumped because hurt is one thing, injured is another," Schiano said. "If you're hurt, you can play. You’re hurting, but you can play. Our trainers will help you get well and help you play with the pain. If you're injured, then you can't play because if you're injured and you play, you're going to injure yourself worse." The difference between pain and injury is a popular topic in the Rutgers football locker room. Pain is something one can play through and, at Rutgers, those that do so are rewarded. Every spring, the Scarlet Knights present the Frank R. Burns Award to one player, who "displays extraordinary physicai and mental toughness during spring practice." This year's winner, senior defensive tackle Charlie Noonan, played through 14 spring practices with a groin injury. I He earned it not only because he played hurt and earned even more respect from the coaching staff and his teammates, but because he was open and honest with trainers about the injury through the entire process. "It hurt, but part of a college football piayer is playing hurt," Noonan said after the team‘s annual spring game. "As you get older, you reaily have to understand your body. You know when you can play and when you can‘t, when you're injured and when you're hurt. It‘s a lot different when you‘re injured.” Playing injured is another story. i’laying injured is what leads to serious risk. Playing injured leads to serious conditions iike second-impact syndrome. Playing injured leads to the kinds of regrets felt by Kevin Saum, Fioranelli, Ajamian, Kent and Porter. "1 think when you’re experiencing pain, there's a threshold of how much you can really endure," said Ajamian, a former practice squad linebacker'and running back for Rutgers. "When you're injured and you're unable to physically perform at an optimal level, that‘s when you really have to tell yourself it's not the right situation to keep going. You're only going to further hurt yourself." http ://www.daiiytarginn.com/sports/playinguthroughnpain-the-risknbehinclwamericanwfootb... 10/21/2010 Playing through pain: The risk behind American football culture - Daily Targum a Sports i’age 8 of 8 Injury prevention techniques exist at every level, but strategies to encourage players to be honest are still in development. For the Scarlet Knights, Schiano encourages players to come forward with injuries by doing his best to keep everyone a part of the team. That is something the players appreciate, Fioranelli said. "Schiano wants you to come forward with injuries," Fioranelli said. "He absolutely wants you to report everything wrong with you.” To ensure honesty, even injured players take the practice field. Players with minor injuries might not fully participate, but they still do every drill they can. Even players withrnajor injuries are still kept active, either by getting treatment with the team or by walking the track during practice. 7 "There is a whole psychological thing that goes along with it —— depression and all of that," Schiano said. "I really want to keep them busy and engaged as much as possible. They wear the dress of the day. Whatever we're in, they're going to wear. If they have a cast on, they're going to have shoulder pads on unless they can't get the shoulder pads over it. "I don't want them to ever feel like, just because they can't play the game, that they‘re still not part of our family." http ://www.daiiytargum.com/Sports/playing—throughwpain—the-risknbehindnamericamfootb. .. 10/21/2010 ...
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This note was uploaded on 09/27/2011 for the course ARTS AND S 90:101:59 taught by Professor Markschuster during the Fall '10 term at Rutgers.

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