Unfortunately, earlier reports of Devon Walker’s injury and subsequent CPR are all too correct.
Now that more information is known about the incident, Walker suffered a broken neck and a collapsed lung in a collision with teammate Julius Warmsley. It’s been reported he underwent an emergency tracheotomy to keep him alive.
Yeah, it’s that real now, folks. I really am sorry to have to be a messenger today, but it’s obviously an important thing to be doing.
I’ve seen the replay and I couldn’t tell if Walker hit his head on Warmsley’s helmet or shoulder pad, but Warmsley is a defensive tackle who had his legs under him. Warmsley could have been anyone else. It truly was “one of those freak things.” He’s not to blame – nobody is – for this horrible injury.
I am old enough to remember then-Citadel linebacker Marc Buoniconti and the fateful play against East Tennessee State in 1985. Without getting too terribly graphic, you can tell something’s wrong immediately. There are a lot of very strong forces involved, and when they collide and one of those forces completely vanishes, the result is a spinning player who is limp-bodied before they even finish hitting the ground.
There is just no subsequent movement of any kind when the spine is severed. Walker would have died on the scene without medical personnel present and ready to put their training to the most honorable uses on Earth: that of saving someone’s life. We should all take a moment and be thankful for people in the medical profession. It takes a special type of person to do the things in his medical chain of events since then.
The timing of such an incident is never good. Lives are shattered and others deeply wounded. The ripple effects of his particular case most certainly will be felt within the NFL.
As many readers know, the NFLPA currently has a massive lawsuit in force against the NFL and the evidence against the NFL has been mounting for decades. I don’t know how that will pan out legally, but something like this only reinforces the fact that football – and particularly the NFL – is a very dangerous, physical sport.
Well, THAT much, we knew.
Walker’s injury only throws the spotlight on the danger, and that glare will most certainly not escape the attention of the NFL or the NFLPA…nor the owners, the rules committees, or anyone else for that matter. Physicists will analyze computer models while people ask: “What can we do to prevent it?”
The short answer is that we cannot. The question the becomes: “What will be done to try to prevent it?”
It’s way too early to judge the aftereffects but the political winds are blowing towards increasing safety. The NFL will argue they’ve been attempting to for decades. I’m really starting to date myself here, but I remember a time before “In The Grasp” was actually in the football lexicon. The “Horse-Collar” tackle is a more recent manifestation.
What’s next? Or will we be finally forced to seriously ask ourselves, “Are we willing to keep paying the price?”
Just as realistically, for a number of reasons, that answer is going to be “yes” for quite some time to come. Statisticians will compare that sort of injury to person-hours spent driving and show playing NFL football is probably statistically safer than the odds of a broken neck in a car wreck, for example.
So where does that leave us now?
I think over the short term – this season/offseason – we’ll hear a lot more lip-service paid to it but little actually done. The reason for THAT is you would have to eliminate the ability of the neck and head to move past a certain point, using some sort of physical restraint, device, or padding. That will take time to study, design, develop, and implement.
The violent nature of the game of football and the hundreds of billions of dollars it generates annually worldwide will ensure that.