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Facing NCAA Scrutiny, Jimbo Fisher Has a Choice

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These allegations should at the very least make us think about how injuries are handled.

NCAA Football: SEC Football Media Day Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, former Texas A&M Linebacker Santino Marchiol came forward with claims about his time in the football program. The complete USA Today article contains what we know so far.

This isn’t about a person. It’s not about one single player, or coach, or a team or a program. It’s about a culture, or rather the husk of an illusion of a culture: a lazy acceptance of tired notions of masculinity posing as substantive teaching, or the “molding of men.”

This isn’t about pointing and snickering, either. Not because it is “us” and we need to remind everyone by employing the classic deflection (also very true in this case) that everyone does it. It’s because it shouldn’t be about laughter anymore. This shit has stopped being funny. People are dying.

Because among the usual and more commonplace improprieties laid out in the article, the payment of recruits and the coarse and vulgar language used by coaches to push players to work harder, lies something far more worrisome. This is something that could be a huge red flag moving forward if any of it is true.

“Dan said there was no fracture but that it was a Grade 2 (ankle sprain) and there was probably some ligament damage,” Marchiol said. “I told him with the last staff I had this happen and I didn’t feel like I could be my best at practice. It was hard to even walk on. He made me feel stupid because he’d say something to reassure me but I know my body. My whole foot swelled up.”

He practiced the rest of the week and said his lower leg continued to swell and showed significant bruising.

Marchiol said he believes he was pushed to play through the injury because of a belief coaches frequently shared loudly with the players: The Aggies program had been like a country club under Sumlin. In fact, he said, everything in the message of Fisher and his assistants had been themed to demand more toughness, from the duration of workouts to the language coaches used on the field to players being told outright that highly rated recruits were coming to replace them.

This is such a dangerous dichotomy, because the health of players is potentially being sacrificed to prove a point. Regardless of the intricate details of Marchiol’s ankle injuries, the allegations that the staff would discount the advice of the surgeon who had operated on his ankle is alarming in and of itself. There’s a line between toughness and blind haughtiness, and sacrificing a player’s ability to even play footballfor the sake of a “coachable moment” has crossed it.

There was a tendency for teams under the previous staff to fade late in the season and not be able to control the line of scrimmage. This site is not afraid to call a team soft. But just because that may be true, does not mean that every player who was injured under Sumlin was faking it. We want the easily digestible story: we want it all to be false and will discount the entirety of the report if just one thing is proven untrue. For everything to line up neatly in a row. But the reality is that the world is full of gray areas, and more than likely there are at least some elements of truth lingering in this entire mess.

Well, we wanted a championship-grade program, and now we’ve got championship-grade NCAA attention. Jimbo Fisher will weather this: if he can survive Jameis Winston, he’ll cruise past this with barely a notice. But the flags have gone up, and there will rightly be focus on his handling of medical issues. Let’s hope he’s got the conviction to do the right thing and draw the line at using the health of his players to reinforce some cliched notion of toughness manifested in the last century. Not everyone who is hurt is weak.