Wineke: Let’s stop laughing at Herschel

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin has a new head football coach, Luke Fickell, who will be paid more than $6 million a year.

He replaces Paul Chryst, who will receive something like $11 million severance pay since he was fired before his contract was up.

I don’t really have any problem with those salaries. No one forces organizations to pay their coaches huge sums. A person’s financial worth is whatever someone is willing to pay and we seem willing to pay a lot for the services of winning coaches.

Nor is a salary an indication of what a person’s value is to humanity. Pope Francis receives no salary at all.

But there is one thing that does bother me about football and its relationship to educational institutions: Herschel Walker.

We all had a grand time laughing at Herschel during his recent campaign for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.

And, to be honest, Herschel Walker did seem to have no more qualifications for the Senate than did Caligula’s horse when the famed Roman emperor appointed that steed to be a state consul (though there is no evidence the horse actually sat in the Roman senate).

Herschel admitted to fathering numerous children he hadn’t bothered mentioning before the race; he was accused by women of paying for their abortions even though he said he would not favor any exceptions to his anti-abortion stance.  His former wife and a former girlfriend accused him of holding guns to their heads.  He was inarticulate.

That was the Herschel Walker who ran for Senate.

What we don’t know is what Herschel might have been had he not been a football star.

What we do know is that he suffered dozens, perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands of concussions during his football career.

And we do know now – though the information is somewhat recent – that numerous concussions lead to a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be fully diagnosed by autopsy, but which has many of the same symptoms that Walker displays.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2017 that a study of 111 deceased National Football League players showed 110 of them had CTE.

Football, both in professional leagues and in college is a very big, lucrative business but there is mounting evidence that it is dangerous to those who play it. Herschel Walker was one of the best at playing the game. We don’t know if he is now paying the price.
I do have a real hunch that he was exploited by people who should know better.

So I have no problem with the amount we pay our coaches. I just wonder if it is right for a public institution to hire them at all.