By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) That it was tiny Frostburg State where football killed a kid is why it matters more.
Derek Sheely is dead, and not because of an accident.
What happened on the practice field in western Maryland needs sunlight, and our ongoing national discussion of the malevolent side of football culture must include new, disturbing information that presents the most raw, direct confrontation yet of a game’s dark heart.
This story ran Monday in the Washington Times. I read it yesterday after a link was posted on Twitter by CBS columnist Bruce Feldman. You should read it now.
You will feel as sick afterward as I did, understanding that the facts surrounding Sheely’s death produce no protagonist, save for the one, anonymous player caring enough to send an email to Sheely’s parents.
There are only villains from which to choose: the psychopathic, criminal position coach who relished his role in cracking young skulls, the obtuse head coach who directed players to avoid reporting injuries to trainers, the trainers who never spoke up, the NCAA that refuses to enforce its own rules and refuses to care about what occurred on its Division III level, and NCAA president Mark Emmert himself, with his office’s blithe dismissal of the Sheelys’ concerns.
The lawsuit will tell us much more. Until then, we have only this account.
There is something different about this story, something stark and jarring about the apparent simplicity of the horror. There is no NFL/media/corporate megaplex concerned, no multimillion-dollar college program, and no familiar names that are usually involved when raw-nerve football issues boil into the the op/ed pages and Sunday news shows, as this should.
It’s not pig-faced Richie Incognito and perverted concepts of manhood infecting a professional workplace, nor is it the entirety of Penn State football enabling decades of child-rape. It’s not Steubenville, that dying city of uneducated losers turning high school players into entitled, protected demigods.
This story is this excerpt: “During a full-speed 7-on-7 exercise, the lawsuit says, Derek told Mr. Schumacher that he had a ‘headache’ and ‘didn’t feel right.’ Derek never acknowledged pain. Mr. Rogish and other coaches stood within earshot. In response, Mr. Schumacher reportedly shouted ‘Stop your bitching and moaning and quit acting like a p—y and get back out there, Sheely!’”
Derek Sheely got back out there, collided with a defensive back and fell down and died of acute, massive brain bleeding.
It surprises none of us that the video of this drill that day has gone missing. Frostburg’s lawyers say the camera was turned off, coincidentally.
That wasn’t the part that gave me chills, however. This was, regarding the current status of three employees of a state-funded college who made multiple decisions that resulted in the death of a 22-year-old.
“All remain employed by the university in the same positions.”
If we want to see it for what it is, here before us is the distillation of everything we are talking about regarding the worst aspects of the dangerous sport we love, unobstructed by ancillary clutter. No racial third rail, socioeconomic moralizing or screaming tribal fanbase in the way.
We are getting closer all the time to the essence of what can change, and it does not have to be the game itself. It does have to be our understanding of what it means to be tough, and how masculinity is defined.
“Quit acting like a p—y” is the rotted core of all of it.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.