Though the NFL has not seen a player die from on-field injuries in decades (Korey Stringer died in 2001 from heat exhaustion), tragedy often strikes at the lower levels of this sport.
It happened recently in Farmerville, Louisiana, to 17-year-old Jaleel Gipson (pictured). A fullback, Gipson died after fracturing a vertebrate during “Oklahoma drills” at Farmerville High School’s spring practices. He was on life support for several days.
According to KNOE-TV, Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth has donated to the family the cost of Gipson’s funeral. It’s a great gesture, and news of Whitworth’s generosity brought the story to our attention.
Now that we’re here, and speaking primarily as the father of a soon-to-be-17-year-old football player, why in the hell are high school kids doing Oklahoma drills in May, or ever?
The NFL stubbornly believes its rules will trickle down to the lower levels of the sport. If so, the removal of contact from offseason workouts is trickling from Park Avenue to the Bayou at the rate of partially-frozen molasses.
Jaleel’s coach calls the incident an “unlucky event,” which Jaleel’s family surely would consider to be the biggest understatement of human history. The health of our children shouldn’t be left to chance, not when the risk is avoidable. While we realize that many frustrated, over-the-hill athletes regard high-school sports as having the same significance as the pro game, youth sports are played with children, not adults.
While the excessive zeal of some can undermine the good intentions of the many, it seems like every community has more than a few coaches whose obsession with winning clouds their judgment. Or, in many cases, supplants it.
Try to remember that your players are our children. They’re not your tickets to the glory days that have long since passed you by. They’re our children.
Jaleel Gipson should be alive, and now his family has to deal for the rest of their lives with the fact that he isn’t. While it’s very good and kind that Andrew Whitworth will pay for Jaleel’s funeral, this situation needs to spark a broader discussion in every school district about putting the same limits on offseason practices that the NFL has instituted.
That won’t bring Jaleel back, but it could protect other kids from suffering a similar fate.