It was the guilty-until-proven-innocent culprit in my mind when I first heard about a Fortuna High School football player collapsing on the sidelines Friday night.
Bailey Foley, a senior running back and linebacker for the Huskies, complained of cramps and then suffered seizures at the close of the game at Cardinal Newman.
Foley, 17 and a two-sport athlete for the Huskies who plays second base for the baseball team in the spring, remained in a medically induced coma at Santa Rosa Memorial on Tuesday as he continued to fight off pneumonia and a fever. An MRI taken Sunday revealed Foley had suffered a stroke. Part of his skull was removed to alleviate swelling. It’s unclear what kind of damage his brain and body have sustained.
Foley’s mom, Tara Johnson, is under almost unimaginable pressure to comprehend. To comprehend what happened to her younger son, to comprehend how to help him through it and to comprehend the best way forward for everyone involved.
What she can’t understand at this stage is whether football played a role. But she has a guess.
Johnson said doctors told her that her son’s stroke was caused by a hematoma. And Johnson believes that a hit caused the hematoma.
“It had to have been a certain hit at some point,” she said.
Foley had a suspected concussion when he was about 12, she said, but no other significant injuries.
Fortuna High football coach Mike Benbow told Press Democrat reporter Julie Johnson on Saturday that Foley is a “go-getter, a hard worker, someone who goes hard all the time.”
That sounds like her boy, Johnson said.
“He rides dirt bikes,” she said. “He’s very outdoorsy, always camping and fishing.”
But on Tuesday, he couldn’t cough under his own power.
Was this football’s fault?
“He’s always played football, since he was old enough to play,” his mother said. “He’s gotten banged up, but never gotten a major one.”
Johnson said she’d be worried and “on edge” watching him play, but she figured that was a mother’s natural response.
“You always think, ‘Wow, you better be careful.’ But that’s what he loved and that’s what he wants to do,” she said. “You don’t really think that this would happen. You can’t have them in a bubble. That’s life.”
But there is growing chorus of those who would argue that it’s not life. That it’s football.
I’ve received emails and calls, links to stories eerily similar to Foley’s.
The National Football League, ruling body of America’s most popular professional sport, has admitted that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that those conditions are likely to emerge at notably younger ages than in the general population.
The NFL didn’t share this information willingly.
It emerged after thousands of former players sued the league, arguing that it had hidden the dangers of concussions from its players.
Whether that plays into the league’s sinking television ratings isn’t clear, but those rating are indeed sinking.
Between 2016 and 2017, television ratings for NFL games were down 8 percent — that’s about 1.4 million viewers.
And the signs are there that football may be losing its grip on us, even at the high school level.
How To Help
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with Bailey Foley's medical expenses. To donate, go here.