Minnesota coach deserves a chance to do his job

Coach Jerry Kill has led Minnesota a 4-0 start this season.
(Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)

It never ceases to amaze how sports can become a morality play, and take so many wrong and disgusting turns along the way.

Take the case of the football coach of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Jerry Kill. Kill has epilepsy. He has had four seizures during games, including one Sept. 14.


He is 52, has worked his way through the highly competitive world of college football to earn a job in the prestigious Big Ten, is in his third season, has beaten cancer, has beaten the four teams he has played this season, and now has to beat the perception that he should step down because of his epilepsy.

The he-should-quit thesis hit a high note last week, after one major metropolitan sports columnist in the Midwest put forth that suggestion and another from a different Midwest paper backed him a few days later by saying he would have written the same thing.

Epilepsy is an ugly disease. It tears families apart. The seizures are horrifying to anticipate, worse to witness.

Ponder watching your son writhe on the floor, his entire body shaking. Will it ever stop? Watch him turn blue. See the blood from where he fell and cut himself, or the blood around his mouth, where he bit his tongue.

Ponder the time he seized while at work and fell on the asphalt on a day so hot that the scars on his arm will always be there as a reminder.

Ponder the ambulance rides, the months-long hospital stays for tests that might discover something. Or, worse, might demand brain surgery.

I don’t have to ponder. I’ve been there.

One writer wrote that Kill “suffers a seizure on game day as often as he wins a Big Ten game.”

How sensitive. He turned a health issue into a quip.

He also wrote, “No one who buys a ticket should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man, writhing on the ground.”

The other writer, in backing him, ripped the editor who apologized for the original column. He said if his editor had done that to him, he would be out the door.

There’s a response to that, something about not letting it hit you in the backside.

The editor’s apology was necessary, and, presumably more heartfelt than public-relations driven. Tone-deaf writing can be as damaging to a news organization’s credibility as inaccuracies.

If we follow the logic of the premise put forth about Kill, then my son, who has a wonderful job and is surrounded by caring people who know what might happen and never hold him back because of it, should quit tomorrow and retreat to a dark room so any possible seizures won’t offend anybody.

An estimated 3 million people in the United States have epilepsy. Again, if we follow the premise put forth about Kill, then we will quickly have a massive shortage of dark rooms.

There are no surprises here. Minnesota knew when it hired him. His players know. His assistants know and are ready to act.

Should not the people of Minnesota be proud — and a majority of them seem to be — that their university was open to this, that there might be more lessons here for an academic institution than are gathered on any autumn afternoon of tackling and touchdowns?

Had there been even a hint of journalism here, such as a general discussion about the many phases of medication adjustment that epileptics go through to control the seizures and where Kill stood on that, it might have been more palatable. Or how about letting people know how quickly the effects of a seizure usually end and how capable the victim usually is to work the next day?

It is often helpful to know at least a little bit about the topic of your typing.

One more excerpt from the Midwest columnist: Kill’s seizure created a situation “where the entire University of Minnesota football program, and by extension the entire school, became the subject of pity and ridicule.”

Let us hope that Kill’s doctors will find the right combinations of medicine to stop the seizures. Sometimes, when found, they stop permanently.

In any case, pray that he keeps working. Pray that hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have epilepsy and hear about him, will know that it is all right to get a job and have a life and be allowed the freedom to do their best.

Kill is hardly someone who brings his school pity and ridicule. He is not a detriment, unless all you are capable of seeing in sports is winning and losing and selling tickets.

He is an inspiration.