MORGANTOWN — They say it’s a game, this thing they call football, but sometimes you have to wonder.
Games are fun. They are supposed to make you forget your troubles.
But how do you forget a young man’s death?
Certainly, in Roane County they won’t, for Alex Miller was doing nothing but playing against Clay County on Friday night. The first quarter had ended, the second had not begun .. and it wouldn’t for that’s when Miller collapsed on the sideline.
Later, at the hospital, he was pronounced dead and now the county, the state and, yes, anyone anywhere with a beating heart grieves.
Across the state there have been tributes, including at West Virginia, where Coach Neal Brown opened his media briefing by paying tribute to Miller.
“On behalf of our football program, I want to offer our condolences to the family of Alex Miller and his friends, teammates as well as everyone in Roane County,” Brown said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them. It’s a really sad event. I wanted to make sure everyone in Spencer and Roane County knew that we are thinking about them.”
Tuesday, across the state, there was a “Maroon Out” when the Roane County colors were worn.
Brown took part.
“It’s just a tough deal,” Brown said. “I read about it and have been following it, and obviously that’s why I broke out some old Troy shirts today to have maroon on. It’s a sad deal all the way around.”
WVU defensive tackle Reese Donahue is an instate kid who had played at Cabell-Midland, so this hit home hard with him.
‘Everybody gets caught up in playing football. Football is more to some kids than just football, but when you look at it it’s called a football game. A game, not life,” he said. “The fact that it extends far behind a game and kid loses his life, that’s tragic.”
Maybe it takes a player to express the real grief the best.
“It’s a tragedy, a kid goes out and play with his buddies and something like this happens,” Donahue said. “The whole state is behind him, this team is behind him. It’s horrible that football is now at the point that something like that happens and now it’s normal, but it’s great that football players are a community where now we can man together and help.”
But it isn’t normal. The sport has, in recent years, done what it can to make an inherently unsafe sport safe. Equipment has changed, rules have changed forcing changes in technique.
Yet, it remains a dangerous game. We have all too often of former players having their later days in life by CET due to concussions from years of head-on collisions in helmets that went from leather to plastic but which, only recently, are now providing the necessary shock absorbing ability to prevent much of that.
But knees are torn apart, ankles broken. It seems every year there’s something else, the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier suffering a serious spinal injury a couple of years ago. He was paralyzed, given a 20% chance of ever walking again, but he has willed himself back onto his feet and is making amazing progress.
It is nothing new. As a high school player in New Jersey, I found myself on the ground -- a rather common occurrence the -- at the end of one play when I heard a player from the opposing team laying a few feet away, moaning, saying “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! I can’t move.”
They took him off in an ambulance, his neck broken, his spinal cord severed so that he was paralyzed from the waist down.
Yes, football is a game ... until it isn’t.