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.

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had dinner with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in Arizona around the start of spring training.

If Epstein had any doubt about a contract extension, it ended right there. And on Wednesday, it became official.

Chicago announced a five-year extension, rewarding Epstein for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.

"He started it off by saying some really nice things about me that might have hurt his leverage a little bit, and then I returned the favor by telling him that even if we couldn't work out a contract it would get awkward because I would just keep showing up to work," Epstein said. "As an employee, I will. I kept ruining my leverage."

The deal comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.

Chicago reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and was a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. The Cubs clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.

"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."

Terms were not disclosed.

It looks like Epstein isn't the only Cubs executive with a new deal. He said contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod will probably be announced in the next day or two.

Epstein, who was in the final season of a five-year deal when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was a formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.

"There was never any real drama throughout the summer," said Ricketts, adding the agreement was finalized a few days ago.

What took so long?

"We sat down at spring training, had a nice dinner, talked about getting an extension done," Ricketts said. "Basically, I told him I thought he was the best in the game at what he did. He told me no matter what I paid him he wasn't going to leave Chicago, so we were off to a good start. We checked back in on it a couple times during the summer. There was no real time pressure."

The new deal is a reward for a striking transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with Hoyer and McLeod -- his friends from Boston -- following the 2011 season.

The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix, but they have seen the benefits the past two years. Chicago is eyeing even bigger things after breaking out with 97 wins and reaching the NL Championship Series last season.

"When you have great leadership at the top, it usually filters through the rest of the group," manager Joe Maddon said. "A successful organization has that. We have that. I was very happy to hear the news. I'm very happy for Theo and his family and of course, us. It is great. It's a feel-good story. He deserves it. He's earned it. I'm very happy for him."

High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts, as did a number of trade acquisitions, including last season's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell.

The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.

Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.

There were missteps along the way, but the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.

Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.

Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager.

In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.

The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, including new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic and the spring training home in Arizona. They are also overhauling Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood.

"There really wasn't anything important to me besides finding common ground, making sure that we could stay and see this thing through," Epstein said. "Our mission has not been accomplished yet."

Roman Quinn likely done for season; Aaron Nola is throwing in Fla.

Roman Quinn likely done for season; Aaron Nola is throwing in Fla.

ATLANTA – Roman Quinn spent Wednesday getting treatment on his freshly strained left oblique. The rookie outfielder will try to gauge his condition by doing some jogging and light throwing on Thursday, but all signs point to his being shut down for the remaining days of the season and continuing his bid to make the opening day 2017 roster in spring training.

“He’ll let me know tomorrow and be honest with me if he still feels it,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. "There’s no sense in him getting hurt with only four or five games left in the season.”

Quinn injured himself taking a swing in the fifth inning Tuesday. He blew out the same oblique at Double A Reading this summer and missed six weeks.

“I think he’s more scared than anything that it’s going to recur and he’s going to make it worse,” Mackanin said.

That should be enough to shut down Quinn right there.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Quinn said.

Quinn was 15 for 57 (.263) with four doubles, six RBIs, eight walks and five stolen bases in 15 games before going down. He struck out 19 times but had a .373 on-base percentage on a team that struggles to get on base.

Mackanin sees Quinn as a player who could make the jump to full-time duty in the Phillies’ outfield as soon as April, but first Quinn must clear the injury hurdle that has cost him so much time since he was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft. Quinn has missed time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a torn quad muscle, a broken wrist and oblique issues.

“He mentioned to me that because he’s so lean and doesn’t have a lot of body fat that might be part of the issue,” said Mackanin, referring to Quinn’s oblique issues. “They have so much health food available for the players that this could be a good way to make a change, so we can have a pizza and a burger once in a while.”

Mackanin got serious.

“With him, his big question mark is staying on the field,” the manager said. “That’s always going to be in the back of everybody’s mind because he doesn’t seem to stay on the field as much as you’d like him to. Resilience and reliability are important. So that’s going to be a big test for him next year. It’s obvious what he brings to the table as far as making things happen. He’s a catalyst for a lot of things, the least of which is coverage in the outfield, so it’s a matter of whether he can stay on the field or not.”

In other health matters ...
Reliever Edubray Ramos has a sore elbow and is day to day, and day to day at this time of the year might mean he’s done for the season. Mackanin said the elbow issue is not serious and could be a result of Ramos' pitching longer than he ever has in a season.

Also, Aaron Nola has begun to test his ailing elbow by throwing on flat ground in Florida. He will progress to a mound and eventually face hitters in the coming weeks as the club gauges whether he is fully recovered from his elbow strain or will require surgery that could cost him the 2017 season.