Thank you, Richard Demak, for your exceptional article on Mark Tingstad (Was It Worth the Risk? Dec. 18). It again raises the question of the role of athletics in university life. We Arizona State fans have enjoyed Mark's play over the years, but we respect him even more now that he has shown us that football is not the end but only one of many means to a fulfilling life.
TERRENCE M. ZAJAC
Richard Demak's article about Tingstad's experience with transient quadriplegia was dramatic, but I would be remiss not to point out that, with regard to cervical spine football injuries, those of transient quadriplegia are relatively unimportant. Rather, it is permanent quadriplegia and the manner in which the football community has chosen to deal with it that are the problems.
The issues are twofold: First, the football community appears to be lax in discouraging athletes from using headbutting techniques, like spearing, that can cause permanent quadriplegia. Some persist in calling these tragedies "freak" injuries, as if they were not preventable. Second, those who profit from the game fail to assume responsibility for both immediate and lifetime care for the critically disabled player. Why has football failed to support the National Sports Rehabilitation Foundation, a charitable trust devised to provide lifelong financial support for the severely disabled youngster? Why are youngsters subjected to risk with no or, at best, inadequate insurance coverage? Why has football fostered a situation in which the quadriplegic's only recourse may be an unwarranted lawsuit against a helmet manufacturer? The odds are against the injured player's winning this suit, and, if he does, his lawyers will take 33% to 40% of the award.
Transient quadriplegia is an interesting phenomenon—permanent quadriplegia is a real problem.
JOSEPH S. TORG, M.D.
Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
University of Pennsylvania
January 15, 1990
Fourteen years ago I was left a quadriplegic after sustaining a neck injury in a football game. My life will never be the same. There is more to paralysis than not being able to walk. Every facet of your life is changed. If there is the slightest increase in the risk that paralysis could occur, it should be avoided at all costs. A football game is just that, a game. Life is not a game. Nothing is worth the risk of paralysis.
New Brunswick, N.J.
Your article on the firing of Dan Simrell as head football coach at the University of Toledo (The Ax Falls at Toledo, Dec. 25) is further support for Rick Telander's thesis that the tail is wagging the dog in college football (Something Must Be Done, Oct. 2). I had planned to include the Rockets on my college football itinerary next fall (this year I saw 16 different college teams play in five states, ranging from Upper Michigan to Southern California), but I will not be visiting Toledo now. The good citizens of that city may just decide to respond in a similar manner, sending athletic director Al Bohl a message much stronger than T-shirts, buttons, petitions or editorials: empty seats in an unexpanded stadium.
CRAIG E. BURROUGHS
MILES OF HEART
Our family enjoyed Richard Demak's article on Major Indoor Soccer League star Simon Keith's heart transplant (Focus, Dec. 4) perhaps more than most readers. Keith's courage and spirit were matched by that of our two sons, Josh and Matt, who, the day after their final exams last spring, were admitted to the hospital for open-heart surgery to correct congenital heart defects. They underwent their operations on the same day and recovered side by side. Then, during the hottest weeks of August, they conditioned themselves to play soccer this autumn. Matt's eighth-grade team at St. Gregory's School had a 9-1 record, and Josh was a captain on the Shaker High junior varsity. Now they're playing basketball for their respective schools.
Demak's article should be an inspiration to all athletes with congenital or acquired heart disease. The skills and technology for cure are available. All that is needed is the "heart" to pursue the goal.
TIM AND MAGGIE VINCIGUERRA
Latham, N. Y.
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