How badly does your kid want to play football?
I mean, would want your son want to truly risk his life to play the sport he loves?
And no….I’m not talking about suffering a concussion and the aftermath from repeated concussions.
I’m talking about a most unusual case of a Towson University football player named Gavin Class who almost died in August, 2013, during a fall practice session. He suffered a serious case of heat stroke and ruined his liver.
Class collapsed on the field, his body temperature rose to a stunning 108 degrees, and to save his life, he had to undergo 14 surgeries, including a full liver transplant.
And yet, not only has Gavin gotten better over the subsequent months, he is now dead set on playing college football again.
Perhaps “dead” set is a poor choice of words.
In any event, he’s ready to play football again this fall — except that Towson University stepped in and said no – I’m sorry – but you can’t play. Playing Division I football is just too dangerous for your health.
But here’s where the case becomes different….
A Case of Medical Disability Discimination
Class, who is listed as 6-4, 255 pounds and who has lost 60 pounds from a couple of years ago, ended up suing Towson saying that he’s being discriminated against because of his medical disability – remember, he’s had a liver transplant when he collapsed two years ago, and that qualifies as a medical disability.
This past week, a US District Judge in Maryland agreed with the young football player, and said yes, that the university had discriminated against him. The federal judge ruled that Class could indeed join the team and enter into the hot August practices.
All this being said, the court did allow the school to file an appeal in the next few days, and Towson has said that it will definitely do that.
Bear in mind that Class has to follow some strenuous medical precautions in order to play and to stay safe, including having to wear high-tech protective abdominal padding to protect his liver, and before each practice and game, he has to swallow a “thermometer pill” in order to allow a trainer to wave a hand-held monitor over his stomach for three to five seconds every 5-10 minutes to check on his body temperature.
The kid and his family have to pay for these extra medical precautions, and that’s okay with them. Overall, the judge ruled that according to the medical evidence presented to him in the case, Class would be okay to play with no fear of heatstroke.
During the trial, Class relied heavily on the testimony from medical doctors and experts from the Korey Stringer Institute. As you may recall, Korey Stringer was a star lineman for the Minnesota Vikings before suffering heat stroke and dying. This Institute, named in his honor, focuses on all issues regarding heat stroke.
In their opinion, the kid should be cleared to play football again, even though common sense would SEEM to say just the opposite. The federal judge agreed with their expertise in this matter, and in fact, as law professor Doug Abrams commented on the show this AM: “It seems that the university’s attorneys did not bring up much in the way of conflicting medical opinions. In fact, in the judge’s ruling, he even cited the lack of conflicting medical evidence. Without that balance of so-called medical opinion, the judge almost felt compelled to rely solely on the plaintiff’s evidence.”
Professor Abrams adds more: “And when Towson appeals this to a higher court, they will not be allowed to introduce new opinions or testimony. The higher court can only review what was discussed and presented in the lower court. In other words, Towson doesn’t get a ‘do-over’.”
That adds even greater strength to the sharp reality that Towson will not win this case, and that Class will play again.
What Do You Do if You’re the Coach?
The callers this AM were firmly and sharply divided on this. Several said that the young man has every right to pursue his dream of playing football, and who are we to judge him? Others stayed with the view of common sense, e.g. “How can any sane coach allow a kid with a liver transplant and who almost died two years ago to go out and play again? He’s lucky to be alive.”
Doug and I discussed the awkward spot the coach and his staff will find themselves in. How do you handle a kid like this, knowing that every time you send him into a full-contact practice or game he may get hit and die on the field? Is that fair to the coach? How about to his teammates? And even the opposing players?
In addition, the Towson staff can not simply not play the kid or just cut him. That would be a clear violation of the judge’s ruling, and as such, they have to treat Class like they treat any other player on the team.
I honestly can’t recall any kind of case like this from ever before, but it was clear from the callers on WFAN this AM that people were getting heated and emotional about this.
You should also know that Class’ family is most supportive of him and his desire to play. Other parents may take an exact opposite of this, but Jon Class, the kid’s father, has been quoted in the media as to how proud he is.
And of course there’s a lot to be proud of – Gavin Class survived a devastating injury and lived to talk about, despite liver replacement and more than a dozen operations.From that perspective, he’s to be saluted and applauded.
But personally, if it were me and my son, I just don’t know if I would let him take that risk again of playing football. There are other ways to pursue one’s passion in football, such as becoming a coach or scout or sportscaster. And he is to be praised for recuperating and becoming healthy again.
But to knowingly risk one’s life in a violent sport like football? I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.