When Gabe and Josh Anderson watch Jerry Kill coach the Minnesota Gophers football team on Saturdays, they don’t see someone they should pity.
They see hope.
Brothers Gabe, 11, and Josh, 9, both have epilepsy. They both love football, and they love Jerry Kill.
So when Kill had another seizure during the game Saturday, they were concerned, but saw the incident as just part of a life they have known for years.
While some were unsettled by Kill’s latest attack, Gabe said the coach’s visibility helps people understand what he and his brother go through, but it also shows them they are capable of great things.
“I think it’s extremely important because I don’t think there are many people in that kind of position that come forward” about the disease, said Gabe. “He’s a Division I coach.”
Both boys like to throw the football around in the back yard, and Gabe played organized football until an unrelated concussion ended his season this year. The boys met Kill at Camp Oz, a Hudson, Wis., camp for kids who have seizures.
During his appearance at Camp Oz, Kill told the kids:
“I’m just like you, and that’s a great thing,” Kill said. “I feel very good about it. It’s really about having a good, positive attitude and making sure you can do what you want to do.”
Then he went around and asked the kids what they wanted to do with their lives. One said he wanted to develop a medicine that tasted like candy.
“If you can get medicine to taste like candy, we’ll all be happy,” said Kill.
A girl said she wanted to be a princess.
“You’re already a princess,” Kill joked.
Gabe and Josh have also been to Gopher practices, where Kill continued his message.
After practice, Kill brought his players to meet his visitors brought by the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.
“He looked at the team and said, ‘these are my people,’ ” said their mom, Kristin Anderson. “Then he told the kids, ‘don’t let anybody tell you you can’t follow your dreams.’ ”
Yet, the general public doesn’t always respond with charity when people have epileptic seizures, said Melissa Becker, communications director for the foundation.
When prominent people with cancer or heart disease battle publicly while doing their jobs, they are often lauded, Becker said. But when Kelly Osbourne had a seizure in March, people took to social media to make fun of her. A New York Daily News story said 41 percent of the comments were negative.
Becker said the foundation gets dozens of calls each week from people who lose their jobs after a seizure, and parents of kids who are bullied in school. Not long ago, a girl was removed from a field trip that she saved for because of increased seizures.
Anderson said she understands that seizures upset people.
“It’s horrible to see someone having a grand mal seizure,” said Anderson, “especially when they are children. I’m not saying that it doesn’t hit people’s emotions, because it does.”
But Anderson thinks Kill’s job status should be judged by the coach, his doctors and whether he’s successful, not by his epilepsy.
“My faith is in the University of Minnesota to make that decision and make that call,” Anderson said.
Until then, Kill will continue to have an impact on her sons.
“He inspires me,” Gabe said.