Under normal circumstances, I pay no attention to the NFL Draft.
But circumstances are not normal, and they have not been for some time now, and a story arising from the most recent draft caught my attention, which might otherwise have been focused on whether the Vegas Golden Knights will win the Stanley Cup in the first year of their existence.
At the heart of the story is the heart of Maurice Hurst, who played defensive tackle at Michigan. Hurst legitimately supposed some team would draft him early, thus setting in motion whatever fate might await him as an NFL player: fame and fortune, perhaps -- and perhaps chronic traumatic encephalopathy or Parkinson’s disease.
But in March at the 2018 scouting combine, where college players are measured, interrogated and salivated over by scouts and agents, Maurice Hurst turned out to have a heart condition. He was sent home.
Though Hurst was projected as a potential first round pick, he fell to the fifth round, where the Oakland Raiders selected him.
The selection was not quite as bizarre as it initially might sound. After the combine, according to Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, Hurst received, “full medical clearance to continue playing football.”
One potential response to this news is, “Good for Maurice Hurst,” I guess.
But not everybody was convinced. According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, one NFL head coach opined that, “only the Raiders would draft a guy who could literally die on the field from a known condition.”
It’s probably fair to assume that the doctor who cleared Hurst to play is better informed about that gruesome possibility than the anonymous head coach. But perhaps the larger issue is the selective nature of that coach’s outrage. Every owner, head coach and trainer in the NFL is presiding over an enterprise that puts at grave risk every player on the payroll.
I certainly hope that Maurice Hurst won’t “literally die on the field.” But the evidence already in demonstrates that whatever happens to Hurst’s heart, lots of his teammates and opponents are likely to suffer permanent, irreversible, life-diminishing damage to their brains as a result of their employment.
The story of the drafting of one player who was sent home from the combine after a medical exam made the news this week. The story of the ongoing threat to the long-term cognitive health of the approximately 1,700 men currently employed in the NFL should make the news every day.