From the Daily: Too little, too late

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published September 30, 2014

Saturday afternoon, sophomore quarterback Shane Morris took a helmet-to-helmet hit during the fourth quarter of the Michigan football team’s game against Minnesota. Morris remained in the game after exhibiting concussion-like symptoms, obvious even to the untrained eye. After further assessment of an ankle injury sustained earlier in the game by the head athletic trainer, Morris was cleared and allowed into the game in blatant disregard for concussion protocol and player safety. In the days that followed, Michigan coach Brady Hoke, Athletic Director David Brandon and University President Mark Schlissel respectively released official statements about Saturday’s mishap. However, the lack of a timely and forceful response from the University Athletic Department, the University's Board of Regents and Schlissel and the rising discontent among students and alumni propelled the story toward a national discussion about Michigan athletics and the way it treats its students on and off the field. Moving forward, the University and the Athletic Department must be transparent in their actions and make students their first priority.

The Athletic Department’s handling of the situation after the game and its response, or lack thereof, was a total failure. Hoke’s postgame press conference indicated his total ignorance regarding the incident, and his official statement, released Sunday afternoon, didn’t address Morris' head injury. By Sunday night, the failure of the Athletic Department to address the situation and admit shortcomings allowed the story to hit all the major news outlets, even taking a segment on ABC’s “World News” and “Good Morning America.”

In his weekly Monday press conference, Hoke remained blatantly unprepared, did not know key information and repeatedly answered questions by asking reporters to refer to a forthcoming statement from the medical staff. At 12:52 a.m. Tuesday morning, that statement did not come from the medical staff, rather it came from Brandon, who addressed the situation on behalf of the Athletic Department. The statement contradicted many of Hoke’s half-answers during his earlier press conference. Most notably, Brandon confirmed Morris had suffered a “probable, mild concussion,” when previously Hoke stated there had been no signs of head trauma.

According to Brandon, the oversight occurred because medical personnel and the coaching staff did not see the hit. A general failure of communication further prevented the proper and timely handling of Morris’ head injury. Though this statement and statements from Hoke don’t suggest intentionality, there is no acceptable excuse for compromising player safety, as negligence is equally as deplorable. The players on the field are entwined in a culture of toughness and playing through injury without much regard to the potential hazards of doing so. The decision to play cannot be left to the students.

ESPN Broadcaster Ed Cunningham lambasted the team for its lack of concern for Morris’ safety for multiple minutes on air during the game, both before the hit to the head while Morris was limping around with an ankle injury and after the hit. The crowd booed loudly when Morris was left in and subsequently when he reentered the game. Because the hit on Morris occurred after the ball left his hands, the coaches were no longer watching the quarterback when the incident happened, and therefore, sideline staff assumed his post-hit stumbling was due to his ankle injury. The lack of communication between coaching staff, athletic trainers and the team neurologist prevented Morris from receiving a full examination and allowed for his reinsertion into the game. Brandon’s statement early Tuesday morning outlines a plan to have a medical professional in the press box or video booth to ensure that this situation will not happen again due to a failure to see the entirety of the play, and also says the team is examining its sideline communications with regard to player injuries. These proposed changes, supported by Schlissel in his statement, and by the NCAA, must be implemented immediately.

This incident was just the tipping point for public opinion of the University Athletic Department. Students feel a large disconnect with the Athletic Department, especially in light of the failed implementation of a general admission seating policy at football games and the switch to a claims-based system for basketball tickets. Furthermore, students and non-students alike are fed up with historically high ticket prices, especially for a season with one of the weakest home schedules in recent memory and an increasingly over commercialized stadium culture. Many fans feel loyalty is no longer rewarded, as exemplified earlier in the week with the two Coke products for two tickets marketing ploy. In addition, the mishandling of former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ permanent separation from the University after being found responsible for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy contributed to the simmering discontent of many students.

Overall, the Athletic Department’s public relations has failed to positively engage students, alumni and fans, leading to Tuesday’s protest and petition through the CSG website calling for Dave Brandon’s resignation that has amassed over 10,000 signatures. In order to rectify the situation, the University administration and the Athletic Department must restructure their priorities to include the safety and well-being of student athletes while also keeping the input of all students in mind.