Richard LeCounte

Richard LeCounte’s Biggest Choice

In this life, one is gifted only one brain and what people do with it is up to them…

Richard LeCounte loves two sports:  Football and Basketball.  LeCounte has shown a great commitment to playing both sports in High School.  He finds a way to juggle a High School Football schedule that includes camps and All-Star games along with a High School Basketball schedule and Summer AAU Ball with the Georgia Stars.  LeCounte committed to the University of Georgia Football Team to play in the secondary of Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker’s Defense.  To be more specific, he is projected to play Safety, which is a multi-dimensional role that involves coverage and the tackling of receivers and running backs.  Safeties take on hits in practice and in game environments.

Richard LeCounte’s dual interests fit perfectly within the topic of amateur student-athletes choosing to play Football in spite of the long term and short term risks involved.  Richard LeCounte has committed himself to three or four  more years of uncompensated labor in a sport that is labeled a “collision sport”.  Whether LeCounte makes it into the NFL is yet to be determined and if he makes it into the NFL, his career length and earning potential are unknown.  LeCounte is counting on a scenario that puts him in the company of Reshad Jones of the Miami Dolphins, who happened to have attended the University of Georgia.  It is a dream that is nice to chase, but extremely difficult to realize.

(Note:  If it is not obvious, this is an article that will offend sensibilities.)

CTE – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is Real

First the Deniers and Conspiracy Theorists…

Denying the existence of a condition that exists after years of repetitive brain trauma is tinfoil hat material.  There is no political motivation to inventing a condition like this.  To paraphrase the typical CTE denier’s thoughts on the matter:  “Them scientists are just trying to spread liberal bullshit to queer up the world and make men weak.”  The deniers even try to tie the findings regarding Football and CTE with climate change/global warming/global cooling.  Of course, in this weird tribalistic world, one is not allowed to believe that the two subjects are completely unrelated matters and hold different views on each matter.  Just because one sees an issue with Football having a tie to CTE, it does not mean that the individual believes that government regulation or an outright ban on the sport should be imposed.  However, the political divisions and paranoia once again have the largest and loudest megaphone.

Now the scientific findings…

Dr. Ann McKee, Chief Neuropathologist for the VA, Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Framingham Heart Study, the New England Centenarian Study, and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, had determined that the brains of those that played Football had noticeably different brains than those that did not back in 2009.

The posthumous findings of CTE in former Football players on all levels is troubling, but unfortunately has a somewhat skewed sample.

“Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they’ve examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

In total, the lab has found CTE in the brain tissue in 131 out of 165 individuals who, before their deaths, played football either professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school.

Forty percent of those who tested positive were the offensive and defensive linemen who come into contact with one another on every play of a game, according to numbers shared by the brain bank with FRONTLINE. That finding supports past research suggesting that it’s the repeat, more minor head trauma that occurs regularly in football that may pose the greatest risk to players, as opposed to just the sometimes violent collisions that cause concussions.

But the figures come with several important caveats, as testing for the disease can be an imperfect process. Brain scans have been used to identify signs of CTE in living players, but the disease can only be definitively identified posthumously. As such, many of the players who have donated their brains for testing suspected that they had the disease while still alive, leaving researchers with a skewed population to work with.

Even with those caveats, the latest numbers are “remarkably consistent” with past research from the center suggesting a link between football and long-term brain disease, said Dr. Ann McKee, the facility’s director and chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.”

Sub-concussions happen on routine plays that are not head-to-head hits and go undetected, but over time the sub-concussions do build up and players do feel the effects in later stages in life.

Those Latter Stages in Life May Come Earlier Than Expected

Consider the worst case scenario for an athlete considering the three major sports offered in the United States.

Basketball:  Tear up a knee in High School and fail to take advantage of a scholarship to play College Basketball.

Baseball:  Go through two Tommy John surgeries in High School and then find a way to get “dead arm syndrome”.

Football:  Committing a murder-suicide. 

As with any experience, one’s mileage may vary.  Not every participant in the sport of Football will commit a murder-suicide, but the rash of suicides among retired and inactive professional/amateur football players should be considered alarming.

  • Terry Long
  • Andre Waters
  • Shane Dronett
  • Dave Duerson
  • Ray Easterling
  • Junior Seau
  • Paul Oliver
  • Jovan Belcher
  • Owen Thomas
  • Kenny McKinley (suspected CTE)
  • O.J. Murdock
  • Adrian Robinson
  • Kosta Karageorge

When examining a list like this, it almost resembles the premature deaths of professional wrestlers that were popular during the 1980s and 1990s.  Watch an old clip of WCW Monday Nitro from its hey-day from 1996 to 1998, there are 22-45 year old men that should be alive, but many died in the 2000s.  No, Buff Bagwell is not dead, but he is doing other stuff.  That’s what American Football could start to become.

The NFL had settled a $1 Billion lawsuit filed by former players regarding their concussions.  However, lost in this entire argument is that during the formative years of their lives, they played Football for free.  They played Pee-Wee Football, Middle School Football, High School and College Football before even having the opportunity to play professionally and earn money from their ability to play the sport.  The damage had already been done as human brains do not finish development until as late as 30.

Those that reach the NFL, the pinnacle of the sport, do not exactly end up financially secure.  Many end up BROKE.  In fact, 16% of former NFL players declared bankruptcy.  Contract values come with guaranteed and non-guaranteed money as compensation in the contract.  Factor in taxes (including jock taxes), agent fees, the rookie tax, non-discretionary expenses, taking care of individuals that are not oneself and a career that may come up to an abrupt end due to injury – it’s not pretty.

Major League Baseball players have 100% guaranteed contracts and nobody knows it better than Carl Pavano.  Major League Baseball has only one documented case of CTE, Ryan Freel.  Freel was known for diving catches and taking serious risks with his body when playing in the Outfield.  Major League Baseball has taken significant action to clean up activity at second base concerning the “neighborhood play” and the dangerous takeout slides in double play situations.  The league also cleaned up the rules concerning blocking the plate to allow runners to have an unobstructed lane and avoid collisions.  The game is not 100% safe and never will be, but it is not an inherently unsafe sport.  Baseball is not a collision sport and it involves minimal contact.

The NBA also has 100% guaranteed contracts.  European Basketball Leagues often pay less than the NBA and more than the NBDL, except in the case of Josh Childress.  The European Leagues typically secure housing, some food and pay the taxes of their players.  However, it is a nomadic life for those playing overseas.  This overseas life can force players to grow up quickly after their college days.  However, after considering all this, how many basketball players have CTE or have had violent episodes resulting from CTE?  None.  Basketball is a limited contact sport that has incidents of concussions and head injuries, but they happen at a FAR lower rate than American Football and are considered rare on the professional level.

Making it into professional sports is very difficult for a student-athlete.

The average NFL player has a career that lasts 3.3 years.  That highly touted Running Back in College?  If they make it past their first preseason only last on average 2.57 years.  Cornerbacks last 2.94 years on average, if they make it past their first preseason.  Many talented Football players do not even make it out of preseason as a Rookie.  Careers die before even getting a chance to make a roster or even a practice squad.  Rookie “Enhancement Talent” comes and goes every Summer.  By mid-August, many are left to figure out what to do next with their lives and lean on the education that they had or did not have.  An injury in preseason can end a career.

Men’s Basketball players have a better chances at professional opportunities as Basketball is a GLOBAL sport.  Starters at a major and some mid-major programs get their shot to play internationally coming out of college.  Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann both are playing Professional Basketball in Europe, Gaines is in France and Mann is in Latvia.

The Future of College Football

Will Football become illegal?  Probably not.  Should it be illegal?  Absolutely not.  Will parents choose to have their kids play other sports?  Depends upon socioeconomic class.

The future of College Football in the United States is that it will reflect the SEC even more so.  It will become a collegiate sport where the spectators have NOTHING in common with the student-athletes on the field.  The student-athletes will almost all come from very poor upbringings as middle class, upper-middle class and upper class families from suburban areas and urban areas will choose not to let their kids play the sport.  More kids will grow up playing Baseball and Basketball and those Summer Leagues will be packed.  The phenomenon of 15-17 year olds requiring Tommy John Surgery will be a strange and unfortunate thing.  However, it is better to have this sort of an injury than it is to have concussions and subconcussions at such an age.

Soccer will also rise in popularity in the United States and in the future, the header will be a relic of the past.  FIFA and the individual Soccer Leagues around the world will choose not to take on the risk of CTE cases due to the use of a player’s head.  Rule adjustments that allow for shoulder contact with the ball without penalty will likely be considered.

The College Football student-athletes of tomorrow will be the modern version of Roman Gladiators.  The Gladiators of Ancient Rome were of lesser means and freelance warriors of the 1st Century A.D. saw competing at the Colosseum as their path to ascension in society.   The message sent to poor, rural youth is that Football is the way out of poverty, the hits are just a part of the process to potential prosperity and increased economic freedom.  The way out of poverty and the path to prosperity should not involve self-harm, but that is the unfortunate and awful message that is sent.

Americans will have to pay for the love of Football in the end.  The medical issues experienced by those that played Football for an extensive period of time will be a part of the cost of health care in the United States.  In the semi-universal health care system that has existed for a few generations (Medicare and Medicaid), the costs are rising.  Universal health care is likely to come down the road as the political winds have shifted significantly and those with CTE will likely require supplemental health care much like those in countries with socialized medicine.  Sicker individuals and people with maladies will grow, which will drive down the quality of care as the costs of treating CTE will have to be factored into the picture much like obesity, smoking, alcoholism and drug usage.

As for Richard LeCounte…

To say that LeCounte was lucky after suffering head trauma and being stretchered off the field is an understatement.  LeCounte is not being compensated and is just in the process of getting to the point of receiving an NFL contract.  Just getting to that point is filled with peril and incidences that could shorten a person’s playing career and more importantly, their life.

It seems ghoulish to point something like this out, but an instance like this could weigh into any High School student’s decision-making.  It’s easy to #CommitToTheG when there is no risk to one’s health, but these prospects and student-athletes are taking serious risks.  Richard LeCounte is a ballyhooed recruit that may or may not pan out in College and in the Professional ranks, but to deny that damage has not been done would be incredibly naïve and downright stupid.

Richard LeCounte as a High School Basketball Student-Athlete with Liberty County High School.

LeCounte has plenty of exposure by playing with the Georgia Stars, but in College Basketball recruiting has to overcome the stigma of being a recruit from South Georgia.  LeCounte does himself no favors with his inability to shoot.  LeCounte’s struggles as a Point Guard at the Free Throw Line and perimeter are not helpful in wooing coaches and attaining accolades.  Being a two-sport student-athlete recognized for Football has not hindered his development in Basketball.  He has the athleticism, speed and vision, but lacks the skill and discipline.  Basketball is a skill-oriented sport much like Soccer, it is not enough to just have freakish athletic capabilities.  Skill and discipline are the result of thousands of hours in the gym dedicating oneself to improvement.

If LeCounte focused on Basketball only as opposed to trying to play both sports, he would likely be a much better shooter and would have exhibited more progress in his ability to avoid turnovers.  LeCounte would also have the attention of many College Basketball programs.

LeCounte is a product of King Football culture that is prevalent in not just the Deep South, but emphasized even more so in South Georgia as a whole.  Basketball is not prioritized in less urbanized areas of the South.  If LeCounte lived in Atlanta, he would be a bit more compelled to pursue Basketball.  However, if LeCounte lived in Chicago, Philadelphia or New York, he would never step on a Football Field and would likely attend a Catholic Prep School.  He’d be on the path to playing in the Big East and his odds of ever having CTE would go down in an extremely significant way.

Very few are able to be student-athletes in Men’s Basketball and Football.  Charlie Ward, Bruce Ellington, Matt Jones, Donovan McNabb, Tony Gonzalez, Terry Baker and Fred Gibson are notable for their participation in both sports in college.  Both sports have different demands and expectations, it is very hard to contribute in College Basketball as a College Football student-athlete.  Charlie Ward and Bruce Ellington were able to do it, but in today’s pressurized environment, it is not wise to let a talented student-athlete balance both sports.

Top college baseball talent that are drafted high by Major League Baseball teams choose to play in the minor leagues than play Football for free.   The obvious reason the choice to go pro playing Baseball is due to the contracts making it worthwhile and not having to deal with the injuries that come with playing the sport.

LeCounte did not commit fully to the Basketball craft and by doing so, chose Football.  This decision just does not happen overnight.  One of three things happened here to sway his decision one way or another.

  1. He did not believe he would improve enough as a Basketball player.
  2. He was convinced that Football was the “way out” (it carries an awful connotation).
  3. Naivete:  He thought that he would be able to play both sports.  (It almost never happens.  Kirby Smart is not going to let him play Basketball.)

LeCounte made his choice, but it is possible that the choice was made for him or he was not even aware he could make a choice that did not involve him playing Football.  Now he has to assume the good and the bad involved with College Football.

One comment

  1. HWT,

    I generally agree with you. If I was as talented as LeCounte and had the opportunity to play college basketball, I would play bastketball over football. As much as I love football and all of the drama that comes with it, but it is just too violent of a sport for long-term success. If I ever have a son, I will always urge him to play baseball/basketball over football for the reasons you have outlined.

    It is LeCounte’s decision to play football and I hope nothing but success for him.

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