Hard knocks

Sports takes fans to another world, but injuries, death make it all too real

Reflections

The Kickoff

April 06, 2007|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

Yesterday's death of Darryl Stingley, the former New England Patriots wide receiver who was paralyzed as a result of a brutal hit by the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum in a 1978 NFL preseason game, is a reminder that sports isn't always fun and games. Athletics often involves physical risk, and sometimes those tragic instances when the risk is realized remain hauntingly vivid. Here are a few:

Herb Score (1957), Cleveland Indians pitcher: A hard-throwing phenom in the mid-1950s, Score was smashed in the face by a line drive off the bat of the New York Yankees' Gil McDougald. Score regained his full sight and recovered but was never the same pitcher. Although the injury happened in the pre-SportsCenter era, it was a familiar event to fans across the country.

Benny "Kid" Paret (1962), boxer: While other boxers have been killed in the ring, Paret's death in his welterweight title bout with Emile Griffith received an extraordinary amount of attention for a few reasons. The fight was nationally televised on NBC and the controversy resulted when the referee failed to stop the match even though Paret appeared to be out on his feet slumped against the ropes while Griffith continued to batter him. Paret died more than a week later.

Ruffian (1975) and Barbaro (2006), racehorses: Injuries to animals almost always evoke emotional responses. Ruffian was a filly who was undefeated in 10 races when she faced Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure in a match race. She was actually ahead when bones in her right foreleg snapped. Ruffian was euthanized when she reinjured the leg after surgery. Barbaro, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, shattered bones in and around the ankle of his right hind leg at the start of the Preakness Stakes. After a long battle and many surgeries, he was euthanized in late January.

Rudy Tomjanovich (1977) Houston Rockets forward: Basketball fracases often amount to little, but when Tomjanovich was punched in the face by the Los Angeles Lakers' Kermit Washington, the Rockets player suffered several broken face bones and life-threatening injuries. He missed the rest of the season but fully recovered. Interestingly, he later coached the Lakers briefly and is now scouting director for the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team program.

Joe Theismann (1985), Washington Redskins quarterback: Theismann's compound leg fracture suffered on a sack by the New York Giants' Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson was remarkable because it was seen live by millions on Monday Night Football and for its graphic gruesomeness that was displayed in reverse-angle replay. The injury essentially ended Theismann's career.

Greg Louganis (1988), diver: At the Seoul Olympics, Louganis hit his head on a diving board during one attempt. Despite the injury, he went to win a gold medal in the springboard and platform events.

Dennis Byrd (1992), New York Jets defensive lineman: Byrd was paralyzed from the neck down when he collided with a teammate while trying to sack then-Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg. His career was over but Byrd made a remarkable recovery and is able to walk, though he remains in frequent pain.

Monica Seles (1993), tennis player: While at the top of her game and playing in a match in Hamburg, Germany, Seles was stabbed in the back by a deranged fan of another tennis star, Steffi Graf. Seles survived but was out of tennis for two years. She returned and had success, but did not return to her pre-attack tennis status.

Nancy Kerrigan (1994), figure skater: Kerrigan suffered a knee injury at the U.S. Olympic trials when she was clubbed in an attack orchestrated in part by the ex-husband of rival skater Tonya Harding. Kerrigan recovered to win a silver medal at the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

bill.ordine@barsun.com

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