By TERRY LYONS, Editor in Chief
While wearing his brand new uniform, the horrific, season-ending injury came in the very first half of this season’s very first game. Immediately after impact, an unusual sound of silence fell upon the sporting arena where a contest must thrive on the roar of the crowd, the banter between teammates or the strategic instructions being shouted from the sidelines.
Instead? A hush.
When a serious injury occurs in sports, the rule book gets tossed to the wayside. No time-out is necessary as medical personnel, often from both benches, sprint to the injured player. The seriousness of the injury can be measured by the reactions of the players – the opposing players, especially. In some cases, the look of terror and agony on the faces of teammates and opponents alike is more harrowing than the expression on the face of the injured player himself. That player is going into shock.
First, there are signs of sheer panic and helplessness as young athletes who are physical marvels, players who can literally lift automobiles or spirits or won-loss records, find themselves only able to wave their hands to direct team doctors and athletic trainers to the injured. Knees buckle as teammates cringe and immediately begin their own silent prayers. Tear ducts often open up, and huge crocodile-tears well in their eyes.
If and when the television cameras capture those emotions, a national audience watching the game, for enjoyment, immediately feels the pain, like none other. It literally travels across the universe and into our living rooms. Sometimes, it can be so gruesome, we, as spectators to these great sporting events, simply dive for the remote and look away, and a lump the size of a damn golf ball, forms in our throats.
Our hearts go out to the player, of course, but also to his family who we know is one of two places. They’re either at the game and experiencing the nightmare live or they are “with us,” watching a screen and listening to the commentators who’re trying to calm a broad audience and warn onlookers, but at the same time, they know their words are being relayed to the family members who are desperately seeking news, a picture, a sign from their loved one.
Frequent readers of this column might think I’m writing about Gordon Hayward, the All-Star scorer and prized free agent signee of the Boston Celtics, who fell awkwardly in the team’s opener at Cleveland earlier this week, breaking his ankle in his first game in Celtics green. He underwent successful surgery at New England Baptist hospital, here in Boston, yesterday, and his video message to the TD Garden crowd on Wednesday night said everything you’d hoped to hear with a simple, “I’ll be alright.”
But, today, I’m writing about Ben Abercrombie of Hoover, Alabama.
On September 16th, Abercrombie, a freshman defensive back who earned immediate playing time for Harvard University’s football team, made a tackle against Rhode Island with 13 minutes left in the first half of his first collegiate football game. He suffered a catastrophic injury to his neck and was motionless, unable to move his arms or legs after the hit. Thankfully, his spinal cord remained intact but he was motionless because of severe trauma to his neck.
After the injury, Abercrombie – (from here on out, we’re simply calling him Ben) – was rushed to a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island where he had surgery to repair the fracture and relieve pressure mounting on his spinal cord. He was on a ventilator and had no feeling in his arms or legs. Since that time, some remarkable things have happened each and every day, albeit with setbacks.
- Ben’s father, Marty, established a page to provide updates and it can be read HERE
- Ben and his family are people of faith and they are relying heavily on their faith, prayer and encouragement.
- The Harvard football team, led by Coach Tim Murphy, has provided tremendous support, with coaching staff and players making frequent trips from Cambridge to Providence to visit Ben and his parents. A game ball, presented September 24th a symbolic gesture to a lifetime of real, meaningful support.
- Ben developed pneumonia, a common problem for a patient on a ventilator.
- From September 29-30th, with the aid of antibiotics, Ben’s conditioned improved.
- By October 3rd, the Harvard coaches, players and community rallied in full force, creating bracelets and other signs of support with the nickname “BadgerCrombie” emblazoned. The nickname tells you everything you need to know about the fight this young athlete is ready to mount in the days, weeks and months ahead.
- The Harvard Varsity Club with able assistance from the school’s Athletic Department and the Friends of Harvard Football club established the Benson M. Abercrombie fund which will not only assist Ben but also other Harvard student-athletes who might suffer such injuries in the future.
- In further support, #StandUpForBen was established for social media channels and the good people of Hoover, Alabama as well as fans in Boston and Cambridge, are rallying behind the efforts. Quite effectively and admirably, some local restaurants in Hoover are donating proceeds to the fund-raising efforts.
- Cards, letters and calls of encouragement have come from all corners of the USA, the sports world and from friends – old and new.
- On October 11th, Ben was moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for further rehabilitation as he begins the road to recovery.
Frequent readers of this column know the style. The background of the story is put forth and the point is often buried deep beneath the lede, here. The idea is to leave you with some deeper thoughts to carry long after you read this missive.
Those thoughts drift from the time we witness the sporting injury to the time we internalize the accident and start down a slippery slope.
The impact of a terrible injury to another sometimes brings selfish thoughts of “ruining” a season for us, especially when there’s been so much hype and anticipation of good things to come – maybe even thoughts of a championship going down the drain right then and there. My guess if that quite a number of Celtics fans who witnessed Hayward’s injury earlier this week had those thoughts.
I know I did.
But, then my rudder of life – my wife – within minutes of us watching TNT’s tremendous and proper coverage anchored by Kevin Harlan’s professional call of the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game, brought me back down to earth. She reminded me of Ben.
While Hayward lay in New England Baptist, rightfully and wonderfully supported by a legion of Boston sports fans, a tremendous organization and medical staff from the Celtics and New England’s finest doctors, he did so, knowing he would walk – and very possibly play basketball again. He also holds financial security with a guaranteed NBA contract that will pay him some $128 million over the next few years (($29.7, $31.2, $32.7, $34.2). All the power to him, of course, as he earned that right as the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement delivers half the fortune of ticket revenue, merch, global network and online streaming rights to the players as a whole, many benefitting greatly as the money increased so drastically in the past year or two.
Please understand, this is in no way a criticism of Hayward, the Celtics or the NBA. It is merely a statement of cold, hard facts.
Ben, on the other hand, is being supported mightily by Harvard, his team, his hometown and the good people from high school and home State. The fund has been established and you can donate HERE. But, medical bills are mounting, insurance coverage is being sorted out, complete with deductibles and everything else that comes along with a horrific case such as Ben’s.
Phone calls, cards, and letters of encouragement will be the spark to fuel each day of the battle ahead for Ben Abercrombie, but cold, hard cash donations will help him and his family along in a big way. And if the money flows in, as it should and damn-well better, it might help some other student-athlete in the future. Please don’t make the mistake and assume that because a student is enrolled at Harvard that his-or-her family is well-off. That is very often not the case.
And, by the way, the sledge-hammer I promised to you earlier in this column is now ready to be delivered.
Twenty-two years ago tonight, October 20, 1995, a young, freshman hockey player named Travis Roy took a terrible fall only 11 seconds into his first shift for the Boston University ice hockey team. He was paralyzed that night. Today is Travis Roy Day in Boston and I ask you to think back and say a prayer for Travis Roy and Denna Laing, a young women’s ice hockey player of the Boston Pride, injured during the Winter Classic festivities of 2016.
Somehow, as much as I feel for the disappointment of not seeing Gordon Hayward play basketball this season and maybe watching the Boston Celtics compete deep into May or even June, my thoughts, prayers and a few bucks are going today to Travis, and to Denna, and, to Ben.