Utah St., BYU handle crisis the right way

December, 6, 2012

If you want to know a real hero in athletics, his name is Mike Williams.

He's Utah State's athletic trainer, and he saved the life of Aggies player Danny Berger on Tuesday.

If you want to know someone who has his priorities straight, his name is Scott Barnes. He's the Utah State athletic director who didn't even flinch about Wednesday night's game at BYU. He decided not to play it.

If you want to know two coaches who have tremendous respect for each other and who were in complete sync on what to do with that game, their names are Stew Morrill (Utah State) and Dave Rose (BYU).

And if you'd like to know a school that understands what is most important in a crisis that didn't directly affect it, it's BYU.

Berger collapsed during practice. He remains at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, where as of Wednesday night, he was "awake, alert and able to communicate with medical personnel and family," according to a Utah State release.

"It was the hardest practice situation in my 27 years as a head coach,'' Morrill said. "Our trainer is a hero. He saved Danny's life. This has been tough on our players.''

Too often we hear about a heroic play in sports, but the term shouldn't be used unless it's heroism in its truest form. A dramatic play, even playing with an injury, isn't heroic. Saving lives on the battlefield, dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the seconds after an explosion, running into a burning building or putting your life at risk for someone else is heroism. So, too, is what first responders do every day in dealing with life-saving situations on the road, in hospitals and anywhere else.

In sports, an athletic trainer has to do his job to perfection in a time of crisis. That's heroic. It happened at Tennessee in 2009, when Emmanuel Negedu collapsed and athletic trainer Chad Newman saved his life.

Last month, Wisconsin athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra saved Mike Bruesewitz from a potentially devastating, career-ending injury when he knew exactly how to handle the laceration that was almost centimeters from causing nerve damage.

"Thank God for our trainer and the job he did in following protocol,'' Barnes said. "He not only applied CPR but he knew to use the defibrillator within the first few minutes, and that was key. That was a critical move.''

Barnes said the AED (automated external defibrillator) was put in roughly five years ago and has become commonplace in most, if not all, athletic facilities on college campuses.

Can you imagine if the Aggies had to go to Provo to play a game? That's what I don't understand in these tragic situations when the common response is to go ahead as scheduled, in part because the player would want it to occur to find some sort of normalcy. But sometimes it's just too soon to think of something so benign.

A game, regardless of whether it's a rivalry or in state, would have been inappropriate 24 hours after one of the players involved was in a hospital and fighting for his life. There are moments that are too dramatic to simply compartmentalize, shove aside and move on to the next event. There needs to be time to decompress and gather thoughts.

"In a circumstance like this, athletic competition takes a backseat,'' Barnes said. "We didn't know Danny's condition. How could we appropriately play a basketball game while a student-athlete is in critical condition?''

The answer is you can't. I disagreed when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted an NFL game on Sunday, 24 hours after one of its players committed a murder-suicide, with the latter occurring at the team's facility.

The game is still a game.

"We'll get it figured out,'' Rose said on finding a new date to play the game. He knows all too well about a medical crisis after he had a miraculous recovery from a pancreatic tumor that fortuitously went to his spleen, which could be removed, and not his liver. "When Danny's situation is resolved, we will figure it out.''

Barnes said everyone is cautiously optimistic that Berger will pull through. The reason for his collapse and his long-term prognosis are still unknown.

What we do know is Williams is a hero, and Utah State and BYU made the correct call in dealing with the crisis.

"We have a moral obligation to understand the circumstances and respect the situation,'' Barnes said. "The last thing on our minds was to play a basketball game. Even if it were a home game, it wouldn't have mattered. Yes, we needed the cooperation of the other school, but it's student-athletes playing the game, and one of ours was fighting for survival. We had to be there for him, and everything else was secondary.''

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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