Did Andre Waters Die for Our Entertainment?

Did Andre Waters Die for Our Entertainment?

Hanging in my basement, alongside the posters and magazine covers of Philly legends like Dr. J, Moses Malone, Ron Hextall, Mike Schmidt and Harry Kalas is a framed photo of Andre Waters. On an Eagles team full of superstars, Andre was my favorite.

Growing up, I was a relatively good kid who respected rules and authority. For a young rule-abiding kid there was something so thrilling about Andre’s blatant disregard for late hits, personal foul penalties, and the league office. The nickname “Dirty Waters” only contributed to the mystique.

He was badass. His legend was forever cemented when I heard Vai Sikahema tell a story about just how far Andre would go to intimidate the opposition. Sikahema, while a member of the Cardinals, was going about his business on the field during pregame warm-ups. The Eagles defensive backs, including Waters, were jogging around the perimeter of the field at Busch Stadium when they approached the Cardinals punter.

The next thing Sikahema knows Andre breaks away from the other Eagles defensive backs at the precise moment the Cardinals punter is preparing to uncork a practice punt. Andre steps in front of the punter, blocks the punt, and starts yelling, "All day. It’s gonna be like that all day." This was during pregame. It sounds ludicrous, and perhaps my fondness for Andre clouded my memory a bit, but I reached out to Vai over at NBC10 who confirmed the story.

For reasons like blocking a punt during pregame, Andre Waters was one of my favorite players ever. On November 20, 2006 Andre Waters killed himself.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time. Perhaps it was the three separate stories that Guest Editor Peter Gammons and Series Editor Glen Stout selected for the 2010 edition of The Best American Sportswriting that motivated me to finally write.

Pieces by Malcolm Gladwell, Jeanne Marie Laskas, and Robert Sanchez, all exploring concussions in football, were chosen for the anthology. Make no mistake about it, by including these stories Gammons and Stout were making a statement about the seriousness and severity of concussions in sports.

Perhaps it was the recent exhaustive three-part multimedia piece by The New York Times on the life and death of former hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard that made me finally sit down to write.

Or, perhaps my recent Twitter timeline had something to do with it. My timeline was flooded with updates on athletes dealing with the effects of concussions. Tweets about Chris Pronger’s severe post-concussion symptoms and Claude Giroux’s recovery from a “minor” concussion were sandwiched between a conversation about concussions between former professional soccer players Taylor Twellman and Alecko Eskandarian, both of whom were forced to retire due to head injuries.

The question in my mind, the question I still have been unable to answer, is what is my role in all of this? I love seeing big hits and physical play. I admire fearlessness and recklessness -- total and complete disregard for one’s body. It’s what drew me to Andre Waters.

However, the very things that left me in awe of him likely killed him. Dr. Bennett Omalu, who was the first person to discover physical evidence linking football-related brain injury and dementia, examined Waters’ brain.

Hal Habib, who interviewed Omalu for a piece in the September 11, 2010 Palm Beach Post, wrote:

"After Waters' suicide, Bennet Omalu, the doctor who studied his brain - and that of other NFL players who died young - said the damage he discovered was consistent with that of 80- to 90-year-olds suffering from dementia.

Family and friends are still not sure what made Waters pull the trigger, but Omalu offers a stark conclusion.

“Football killed him,' the doctor said.”

Leagues and teams continue to cling to the party line that there is not enough science to definitively state that there’s a link between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”), the progressive degenerative disease typically associated with boxers.

Hockey agent Allan Walsh shared his thoughts on the rash of concussions suffered by NHL players and the link to CTE with Los Angeles Times writer Lisa Dillman:

"When [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman says there's no definite proof that there is a link between concussions and CTE, I think that statement will not hold the test of time, and once science catches up with the issue, Bettman is going to be on the wrong side of the science.

 "It reminds me very much of tobacco executives in the '70s screaming to the   media and testifying before Congress that there is no definitive link between cigarette smoking and cancer."

I don’t want to completely blame the teams and leagues though. The players willingly put themselves at risk. I’d be willing to bet that if given the option of either not playing and living a healthy life or playing and risking long-term health risks, the majority of professional athletes would opt to play and risk their health.

Aside from the obvious world class athletic ability, it’s what makes them different from you and me. They are willing to put their bodies and well-being on the line in exchange for the opportunity to make obscene amounts of money and secure the financial future of their family for generations. In turn we marvel at their willingness to sacrifice their health and we glorify them.

It’s a vicious cycle. In Andre Waters’ case, it likely cost him his life. As much as his playing style endeared him to me, the reality was he was not just some mythical disposal late-hitting machine here for my entertainment.

Today, I cringe when Brent Celek or Michael Vick staggers to his feet, punch drunk after getting up from a hit. I hold my breath whenever Claude Giroux goes into the corner to battle for a loose puck. If I am being honest though I’ll admit that part of my concern, a large portion of it in fact, is predicated on how an injury to one of them would impact the Eagles’ or Flyers’ chances of winning.

Then I catch myself and realize it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. I look over at the framed photo of Andre Waters hanging on my wall a
nd remember that he was a warrior. He was as tough as they come. And that sadly, he’s dead.

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.