University Of Washington Needs To Do Right By Darin Harris

Bashing of the National College Athletic Association has been growing exponentially in the past decade. With much ado about issues such as the BCS, player salaries, revoked scholarships and probations, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who thinks the NCAA is doing a good job.

To be honest, I think the hate is a little out of proportion. Personally, I think paying players cash, on top of scholarships, is a bad idea. But there is another issue that you don’t hear about that makes these look like the most petty of grievances.

The 2008 season was one that Washington Huskies fans would rather forget. But if there is one game you might remember, it is probably the 28-27 loss to fifteenth ranked BYU in week two. This game was memorable because of what should have been a game-tying touchdown run by sophomore QB Jake Locker, but he was inexplicably called for unsportsmanlike conduct. The subsequent 35-yard extra point was blocked and the Dawgs were robbed of a chance to win the game in overtime.

The loss was painful for all involved, but this game would have more significant ramifications for one player in particular. HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel did a feature on the catastrophic event.

“It started out as a routine pass play, the kind that University of Washington safety Darin Harris had defended countless times before. The way it ended was anything but routine,” the narrator says as the fateful play is shown. At the conclusion of the play, Darin Harris brings down the BYU’s star tight End, Dennis Pitta, from behind near the right sideline. As the two players go to the ground, Harris flips over Pitta and falls face-first into the turf. 

“My facemask, the bar, impaled me and went right through and split my upper lip,” Harris explained. There isn’t a non-licensed video that I can post, but I can promise you, it looks worse than it sounds. “In that moment, my life was changed forever.”

Harris was rushed to the hospital where he spent more than a week in a medically-induced coma. He reveals that the injury was still debilitating, even after he woke up. “I couldn’t sleep, with sensitivity to light. I was miserable,” Harris said. “Everything was difficult: planning my day, getting my clothes ready, just everything.”

He was treated at the school’s Medical facility for the rest of his time as a student at the University of Washington, with moderate success. However, after graduation, Harris still had difficulty functioning normally, and struggled to keep a job. Naturally, he came back to campus to continue his rehab. A few weeks later, he found an unwelcome surprise in the mail.

“I get a bill. I thought it was a mistake the first couple times,” Harris said. “I just thought because of my injury I’d be taken care of.”

The reporter responds, “You got hurt playing football at the University of Washington. And then you come back, after you left the school, to the team doctor because of the problems you were having as a result of that injury, and…..”

Harris finishes the sentence for him. “Now I’ve got to pay.”

“Once you’re done with college, college is typically done with you,” the narrator said. “You’re not only stuck with the injuries you sustained, you’re also stuck with the medical bills… You’re paying the University of Washington, for the injury that you suffered playing football for the University of Washington.”

Later in the show, it is revealed that Harris is not alone. There are many other former student-athletes in his situation, from schools all around the country, stuck with five-digit medical bills. 

I root for the University of Washington, and am considering transferring there myself for the 2016 Spring quarter. But I am horrified by this situation, and how the school has left Harris out to dry.

As I mentioned earlier, I think that paying players a salary would be a dangerous move. Why are there people who enjoy college sports more than professional? The pros undoubtedly are more skilled and athletic. It’s because of the passion for the game displayed by college athletes, and not the passion for money, exemplified by the players, and everyone in the arena. I think that a 4-year scholarship, which is worth $150,000-$200,00, is a good deal for the players.

However, with the amount of money that is made by the NCAA and the schools, the players should be taken care of when an injury occurs while the player is putting their health on the line for the school. The worth of the scholarship is completely nullified if the student-athlete ends up with thousands of dollars in medical debts anyway.

My heart breaks for Darin Harris, and I sincerely hope and pray that he is able to live a fulfilling life. The University of Washington paying his medical bills will not solve all his problems, in fact, money can never solve all of someone’s problems. But in this case, it will solve Harris’ most pressing problem, and allow to him to move on with his life. The University of Washington needs to do right by Darin Harris, and honor the sacrifice that he made while wearing the purple and gold.

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