The missing player

April 5, 2013 

The Final Four takes the court tonight, but no matter what athletic feats unfold, the signature moment of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is already known: It is the moment when Louisville’s Kevin Ware came down awkwardly on his right foot after trying to block a shot by Duke’s Tyler Thornton. Ware’s lower leg bone snapped with a gruesome, jutting fracture.

It was a sight so terrible players fell to the floor in shock, coaches cried and television quickly stopped the replays. But the moment shouldn’t be followed by a symbolic looking away. Ware’s injury tore the veil that barely conceals the injustice of college basketball and football. The players play for free while the coaches, television networks and the NCAA are awash in millions and millions of dollars gained from their efforts.

Ware can’t file for worker’s compensation. It’s unclear what medical coverage he will have beyond college. Yet he played for a team that is rated the most profitable in college basketball taking in $40 million in annual revenue and realizing profits of between $23 and $28 million, according to sports economist Patrick Rishe.

Beyond the obvious injustice of amateurs generating so much money for others, there is a curious issue of why Ware’s unusual injury happened. Doctors have speculated that perhaps he already had a stress fracture in the leg. If so, did he complain of pain? Was he pressed to play because of the importance of tournament? The NCAA should get answers to those questions. it should also use some of the tournament’s millions to look broadly at the risks athletes feel compelled to take and how they’re treated when those risks prove terribly real.

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