Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
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This is what they call a teachable moment. Jerry Kill revealed yesterday that the seizures that sent him to the hospital during the Gophers' game on Sept. 10 have continued ever since, that they are wearing out his body but not his spirit, and that he is working just as hard as ever.
He also said of his weekly press conference, "I could have had a seizure in there talking to you all."
Well now. To be honest, that thought occurred to me, too, as I listened to Kill preach about his intention to continue working while doctors explore various medical solutions to the "too damn many" seizures that keep coming.
He's getting emails from people who have similar conditions, and from people who want him, basically, to become a spokesman for a disorder that too often is misunderstood. Kill sounds a little too busy to do that -- the Big Ten season is 10 days away, after all -- but just by being honest and public about his seizures, and demonstrating that they are not incapacitating, is probably doing plenty of good anyway. It can't be easy for him -- Kill seems genuinely uncomfortable with the attention his condition has received, and the questions we keep asking, preferring, I'm sure, to simply talk football. He doesn't want to be known as the seizure guy; as Kill pointed out Tuesday, he's the same guy that won all those games at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, results that have fans in Minnesota so optimistic.
His talk about recurring seizures can be misleading, however. Seizures come in varying degrees of severity, and if he's having "20 over six days," it's safe to guess that they're not the drop-to-the-ground-and-flail variety that landed him in the hospital. Dr. Ilo Leppik, a University of Minnesota expert in seizure disorder, said last week that some seizures can last just a few seconds, and nobody else in the room may even know they are occurring. The patient can simply be looking off into the distance and blank out for several seconds, in other words, then come to with no memory of the event.
So here's to a better understanding of Jerry Kill's condition, and of people who have the similar symptoms. As Kill said, coaching football is an all-encompassing life, and nothing as relatively harmless as his disorder is going to get in the way.
"I coached a football game on Saturday, and it isn't like I took a cigarette and sat down and took three days off. I can't," Kill said. "Anybody who coaches football would do it [return to work]. That's what we do. If you get the flu and you're a coach, you can't miss practice."
And seizures are the same.
Kill, by the way, was doing plenty of coaching during practice. He apparently demonstrated how to rush the passer at one point, albeit 10 times slower than he wants his players to try it.
And at the end of practice, I noticed a remarkable scene. Malcolm Moulton had been wearing a "Minnesota Lopher" jersey during the workout, and he was given lots of extra work once his teammates had been dismissed, as punishment for whatever his transgression may have been.
Once Moulton finished all the extra assignments, he started walking toward the locker room. Kill sidled up to him and they started talking. Then the coach took the exhausted receiver's helmet and shoulder pads out of his hands, and carried them for Moulton as they walked to the locker room together.
That's a teachable moment, too.
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