In October of last year, as the anti-football drumbeat among the media grew ever louder, Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter infamously tumbled into the Red Sox bullpen in Game 2 of the ALCS.
At the time, the video evidence was incontrovertible. After Hunter hit the ground — head-first — his body went limp. He had lost consciousness; he was concussed. He admitted as much in the Boston Globe when he thanked Red Sox relievers for “trying to wake me up.”
Nonetheless, Tigers medical staff allowed him to remain in the game, later explaining he had only had the wind knocked out of him.
And the reaction of the media at the time — other than this column — was deafening silence. Nothing to see here, move along, there’s a playoff series going on.
Now, four months later, in a story written by Jayson Stark and published online by ESPN on Saturday, Hunter has set the record straight.
“My lower back was locked up,” Hunter told Stark. “I had to get soft tissue work for two months. Getting out of bed was tough. I had a concussion (emphasis added).”
Tigers catcher Alex Avila was treated much the same three games later after being stunned in a home-plate collision. The Tigers acknowledged concussion “testing" was done but Avila was back in the lineup for Game 6.
The general response from football-obsessed pundits? Let’s ban collisions at home plate but another yawn insofar as Avila's continuing to play. In keeping with the sport in question, I guess, Tigers medics got a free pass.
Had Bears or Lions players been handled similarly, we would still be hearing the roar.
Clearly, NFL athletic trainers and team physicians are in the crosshairs of the media — and others. Last week, such targeting was oddly extended to a case unrelated to concussion.
For months, the NFL’s investigation process regarding workplace harassment in the Miami Dolphins locker room, triggered by the misbehavior of offensive lineman Richie Incognito, dragged on. Until last week, when Ted Wells of the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP released his independent report.
In the wake of the 148-page document becoming available, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross took a stand and made sure the first thing he did was fire head athletic trainer Kevin O’Neill on Wednesday. With the team 18 years, O’Neill was given the bad news after the team had flown him to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.
After making his training room safe for democracy, Ross’ next step was to send offensive line coach Jim Turner packing. Head coach Joe Philbin, having just completed his second year, was left in place and dutifully praised Ross, his boss.
The story would get odder still. On Friday in Indianapolis, O’Neill was named the 2014 Outstanding Athletic Trainer of the Year by the NFL Physicians’ Society. The award was presented by Dolphins team doctor Jerry Kuykendall, MD. Accepting in O’Neill’s stead was Dolphins assistant athletic trainer Troy Maurer, with the team ever since graduating from a Purdue 22 years ago, who read a statement from O'Neill. Upon the conclusion of the statement, those in attendance responded with a standing ovation.
No word, though, on Stephen Ross’ reaction to O’Neill’s honor.