Bearing the Costs of High-Risk Athletes, by Dr. Ken Pendleton

Let me see if I can summarize what USA Today recently reported about an incident involving Aaron Hernandez and, believe it or not, Tim Tebow. The two of the them were at a night-spot, called the Swamp, at one in the morning, on a weeknight during the University of Florida’s spring semester. The then 17-year-old Hernandez successfully ordered and consumed two drinks (and I assume by drink we mean adult beverage), refused to pay, and slugged an employee in the side of the head, breaking his eardrum. Tebow tried to convince Hernandez to leave before the incident occurred, and even offered to pay the bill, and agreed to serve as a police witness. The police were all set to charge Hernandez with felonious assault, but the person with a broken eardrum withdrew the charges, after having contact with officials from UF’s athletic department.

Florida’s and coach Urban Meyer’s handling of this situation is, to put it as mildly as possible, troubling. In fact, incidents like these, which occur all too regularly, raise basic questions about the nature of football, the character required to succeed, and the steps that the NCAA can and should take to compel coaches like Meyer to make better decisions about how to discipline players.

The Nature of Football: You might be surprised to learn that most coaches have defended the extraordinary violence that is part and parcel of football on the grounds that it does, or at least can, build character. The ability to withstand, and persevere in the face of constant punishment is supposed to inculcate the toughness that will teach players how to keep moving forward in life no matter the number of obstacles. As Bear Bryant used to tell his players by way of explaining what it means to fight: “I mean, some morning when you’ve been out of school 20 years and you wake up and your house has burned down and your mother is in the hospital and the kids are all sick and you’re overdrawn at the bank and your wife has run off with the drummer what are you going to do? Throw in? “ Bryant and his coaching brethren would probably not go so far as to claim that playing other sports cannot build character, but most of them believe that football forges the stoutest men.

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