Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Let’s get to it:
*Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins came out with some strong words about the culture in college football that led to the death of Maryland’s Jordan McNair. She praises the NFL for learning from the tragic death of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer in 2001, noting the league hasn’t had any heat exertion deaths since then. Jenkins then writes:
Heatstroke didn’t kill Jordan McNair; the berserk excesses of coach DJ Durkin and his staff did. … You know how many kids NCAA football coaches have killed with conditioning drills in that same period? Twenty-seven. I say “kill” because that’s what it is when tyrants force captive young men to run themselves to death out of their own outdated fears of weakness. Why is the NCAA tolerating this kill rate, which is unmatched at any other level of football?
Now, at this point it’s fair for me to point out — which Jenkins did not — that there are close to 700 NCAA football teams across Division I (FBS and FCS), Division II and Division III. There are more than 20 college football teams for every NFL team. So this could be as much of a math problem as a culture difference when comparing the two.
But it’s also important to QUICKLY point out that even one death is unacceptable, tragic and preventable. And there is evidence cited by Jenkins to suggest the mentality of college programs and hyped up coaches are to blame. College coaches wield an immense amount of power — even more so than NFL coaches, who are dealing with older and well-compensated athletes — and where there is power there is bound to be abuse.
“They get to dictate these things, and we get to keep burying athletes until we make definitive changes to the culture,” said Douglas Casa, a kinesiologist who serves as CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.
*There were a number of Lindsay Whalen tributes as the final seconds ticked away and the Lynx lost 75-68 to Los Angeles in the playoffs on Tuesday, and judging by my Twitter feed there were a ton of people who stayed up to watch even as the hour approached midnight.
I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Whalen, so how about this: She is the single most defining Minnesota athlete of this generation, and the fact that she’s been successful in every phase of her career should give Gophers fans great hope. Nobody even has to pause when it comes to following her career. She’s immediately on to the next chapter, a rare treat for everyone involved.
*There has been a great deal of discussion and at least a semblance of progress regarding athletes and mental health. But there is still a ways to go if the default setting is to praise the likes of NBA players DeMar Derozan and Kevin Love for sharing their stories … while moments later scrolling through your news feed and dismissing (or laughing at) NFL lineman Richie Incognito.