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.

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.