Ware’s gruesome injury highlights one-sided dynamic between colleges and their athletes

This year’s NCAA Men’s tournament is shaping up to be quite eventful. First came the tremendous upsets and the Cinderella stories. Most recently, however, a gruesome story that is unrelated to wins and loses came to light. In the closing minutes of the first half of the Louisville Duke game, Louisville guard Kevin Ware ran out to contest a three point shot. He leaped and landed awkwardly on his right leg, completely splitting it in two. Ware went down on the sideline in agonizing pain as teammates and fans reacted. Players jumped back in shock as they witnessed what was perhaps one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of sports. Some cried, others vomited as they caught a glimpse of Kevin Ware’s bloody shattered bone. Suddenly the moment was much larger than the game; an empowering phenomena in the realm of sport.

Louisville wound up beating Duke by over 20 points, an impressive feat for a team who just witnessed one of its family members snap his season. Thankfully Kevin Ware is doing much better. As of Monday, he was already up and on crutches. Ware’s story will perhaps be as inspiring as it was gruesome. In a post-game interview, Louisville coach Rick Pitino explained how there was no way the Cardinals could lose this game. They had to win it for Ware. Toward the end of the game, Chane Behanan put on Ware’s jersey and began to scream as fans chanted “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!” The story then quickly spread. I was not watching the game, yet I heard about the injury before the competition was over. The viral spread of this devastating event was extremely fast and plentiful. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit all had multiple shots and images of the injury, speaking about it from multiple perspectives. Some took a religious approach while others simply shared the most disturbing picture they could find for shock value. Truth be told, Kevin Ware has never been more popular.

Ware’s injury seemed to bare a striking resemblance to several other injuries in the past. Joe Theismann, a professional football player had his career cut short when he broke his leg in a very similar fashion back in 1985. Theismann actually contacted Ware after his injury occurred, later stating that his heart went out to him and that he should eventually be able to come back. Hopefully Theismann is right, as the last thing any athlete wants is for an injury to define his or her career. However, this is the risk that any athlete must take: injuries, and devastating ones at that, can occur at any time in any sport. Luckily, someone like Ware is still on scholarship. Right? Sadly, he may be forced to pay for his medical bill. While Ware is generating millions upon millions of dollars for the NCAA, he is not under any sort of a guaranteed contract. In many ways, this is good as he is a student athlete where the emphasis should rightfully lie on the word student. However, Ware may not even be guaranteed his four-year scholarship with this devastating injury. Will he be able to afford his college, let alone his medical expenses? Apparently the NCAA does indeed have a “Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program” which ensures athletes up to 20 million dollars in medical fees. However, it is entirely up to the NCAA as to what constitutes as such. If Ware’s injury does not qualify, what happens to college athletes who suffer slightly more minor ones? As Ramogi Huma, head of the National Collegiate Players Association stated, “If you don’t lose a limb, or motion in one of your limbs, you wouldn’t be considered catastrophically injured, then it’s completely up to the school, or yourself.” Joe Theismann’s injury may have cost him his career, but Kevin Ware’s injury may haunt him financially for the rest of his life.

This is where the other side of being a student athlete comes into play. If these athletes are treated as pawns for the huge moneymakers and “one percent” of the NCAA, do they not at least deserve benefits? Shouldn’t medical insurance be a reasonable benefit for student athletes, especially those at this level and stage? David Sirota, the author of an article on Salon.com entitled “Will Ware be stuck with the bill?” got it spot on when he stated, “Those players are treated as worse than mere commodities—because at least commodities are given a financial value. They are treated as indentured servants, who do not get their fair share of the revenues and who can be discarded if they dare get hurt doing a job for the very school that refuses to guarantee them a full college education.”

The story of Kevin Ware is devastating, yet inspirational. He will most likely be okay and will hopefully be able to step on the court again some day. Sadly, the story that goes unnoticed is that of his medical expenses. His injury may cause much more than physical pain. The debate goes on, as these student-athletes are indeed students first and foremost. But in a situation like this, is it worth it to put a boy’s life in financial ruin as he put his body on the line for a money making machine?

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