Mac Engel

Lawsuit against TCU reads more like a case with football

Bart Johnson is the first to admit he played hurt, and that TCU doctors administered Toradol to numb the pain in his surgically repaired shoulder so he could return and be effective on the field.

The former TCU wide receiver, who is now an attorney in Brownwood, is also the first to admit he felt zero pressure to do any of the above, and he consented, and encouraged it all.

“You play with injuries because that’s football,” said Johnson, who played at TCU from 2007 to ’10. “Football is a tough sport. Most of the time, you’re playing with something that is nagging you or bugging you. We played through it. And we never felt any pressure to go out there if we could not physically perform.”

Since former TCU wide receiver Kolby Listenbee filed a lawsuit against TCU head coach Gary Patterson, the school’s board of trustees and the Big 12, scores of former players have expressed their anger, and considerable disappointment, at the litigation.

GP has yet to comment on this, because ... lawyers.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid the subject, GP and TCU canceled his news conference on Wednesday for National Signing Day. He “reportedly” had a scheduled root canal.

You know you want to avoid a subject when you schedule a root canal instead. National Signing Day is every year. Every coach has a news conference to talk about the incoming class.

Somehow, “root canal” was scheduled. Tough break.

Whatever GP has to say on this issue, his former players are doing it for him. The consensus is that Listenbee just alienated himself from the TCU community, and essentially ended his football career.

“In five years I never once saw Coach Patterson, or the TCU staff, pressure any player return too soon from injury,” said Johnson’s former teammate, receiver Curtis Clay. “And beyond that, the training staff and team doctors worked with the players directly for the final say.”

Listenbee’s complaints are new, and specific, but they’re old and general. The crux of the issue is not against one man, or an entity, but against the sport, its routine, its practices and its ingrained culture.

If there is conclusive evidence that Patterson, or one of his assistants, expressly coerced any player to play and overruled a physician’s recommendation, they should be fired.

What GP and TCU’s staff does is no different than any other program in the sport.

Does that make it bullying and cruel?

What coaches are running into is that a growing sector of society believes football’s culture is just that.

Here’s an idea: If you don’t like it, just don’t play.

Other than the continual need to push for safety regarding concussions, football is fine.

Welcome to life: Grow up, shut up, make a play, don’t be selfish, don’t be too dumb, or sit on the bench and support your team. Or don’t play.

“What people see on the sidelines, they can take what they want from that,” Johnson said. “But when you’re in the program and you live it, you know it. They look at coach Patterson on the sidelines and they see him losing it, but I played for junior high coaches who did the same thing. I played for high school coaches who did the same thing. When I was with (the Cincinnati) Bengals, they did the same thing.”

The question is where the game and widely-practiced culture fit in today’s society, and a person’s individual tolerance level for standard, often times overly testosterone fueled, practices.

The scrutiny and criticism of the delivery of the message is neutering our continual need for the heart of the content, which is to simply get tough, to deal with hurt and pain, and the absolute necessity to keep trying.

You find me a college player who likes their coach, in virtually any sport, and I’ll find you a rather large liar. A coach, almost by definition, is there to push when you’re ready to be done.

Only until later does the former player understand what the coach was doing.

“Every coach is different. On every coaching staff that I’ve ever seen or been a part of, you have some fiery, feisty coaches and then you have some who are laid back,” Clay said. “That staff at TCU is no different. It was a great collection of coaches who knew how to get the best out of their players.

“Now, as a high school coach, I continue to see the TCU staff throughout and I have even a greater appreciation for them as men. Did we get yelled at and challenged? Of course. Did I ever feel harassed or bullied? Not even close.”

Much of Listenbee’s case reads like a person who has a problem with the sport; that the sport, and its culture, are being sued.

Football’s culture includes players learning from an early age that a coach doesn’t have to tell you to play hurt. A player realizes, quickly, that to show pain is to be soft. To permit that pain to prevent you from playing is to be weak.

If you give up your spot, there is no guarantee it will be handed back.

There are too many life lessons not to be considered useful.

What Clay to Johnson to Jerry Jones and millions of others like about the game is the lessons it teaches: To play through something.

Sometimes it’s just going to hurt.

If you don’t like it, just don’t play.

Because that’s football.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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