Hoke stresses commitment to players, as furor rises
Michigan's handling of a football player's physical well-being on the field has taken on a number of layers and continues to draw attention from across the country.
Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris was diagnosed with a "probable mild concussion" after a hard helmet-to-chin hit during Saturday's game against Minnesota. Morris, already hobbled by a high left ankle sprain, struggled to get up from the field and required assistance by a teammate.
The diagnosis, however, was not revealed until a statement from UM athletic director Dave Brandon was released at approximately 1 a.m. Tuesday, more than two full days after the game and about 12 hours after coach Brady Hoke said that based on information he had been given, Morris had not suffered a concussion.
The release went through many hands during its approximate 12-hour gestation period. It not only needed the consent of Morris and his parents, but Michigan president Mark Schlissel and the UM Board of Regents. University lawyers were also involved, not to mention neurologist Jeff Kutcher, who is on the field at every Michigan football game, head athletic trainer Paul Schmidt, other team medical and trainer personnel, the football staff and, of course, Brandon.
To be clear, an individual's medical history is private and legally protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Morris and his family eventually had to sign off on the release of this information.
Since the conclusion of the game, during which ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham called the on-field situation with Morris "appalling," there have been numerous national news stories and discussions regarding this topic. There was an on-campus rally involving Michigan students planned for Tuesday evening and an online petition, both directed toward firing Brandon. Also on Tuesday, New Jersey congressman Bill Pascrell, co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Caucus, sent letter to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to investigate Michigan's handling of Morris.
UM president Mark S. Schlissel addressed the issue in a statement released Tuesday evening.
"As the leader of our university community, I want to express my extreme disappointment in the events surrounding the handling of an on-field injury to one of our football players, Shane Morris," the statement read, in part. "Despite having one of the finest levels of team medical expertise in the country, our system failed on Saturday. We did not get this right and for this I apologize to Shane, his family, his teammates, and the entire Michigan family. It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and disciplined we must always be to ensure student-athlete safety.
" … Our communications going forward will be direct, transparent and timely."
Hoke, whose struggling program is enveloped by controversy, said again Tuesday that his main concern is the safety of his players.
Speaking on the weekly Big Ten coaches conference call Tuesday, Hoke would only refer to Brandon's released statement, which said, among other things, there were miscommunication issues on the sideline.
Brandon indicated there will be a change in procedure for games. An athletic medicine professional will be in the press box or video booth with access to television replays to relay information to the medical personnel on the sidelines. Also, Michigan is examining how to improve the sideline communication.
Morris, after he had been pulled from the game, returned for one play when quarterback Devin Gardner had to leave the field after his helmet came off.
"I want to refer to the statement we made and the athletic department released regarding Shane Morris," Hoke said in his opening remarks on the Big Ten call Tuesday. "I'm not going to add anything to that statement today, other than echo that the safety of our student-athletes is our top priority and I think we are all committed to making sure we get it right.
"The thing I feel bad for is Shane. He's going through this entire situation that's come with it. We have 115 young men here that we care very deeply about and are getting ready to play Rutgers. We're looking forward to the Rutgers game."
Just before the Big Ten call, Morris posted a message on Twitter via his account (@ShaneMorris_7): "I just want to play football."
During his news conference Monday, Hoke said he had not talked to Brandon about the Morris situation or his job status. Michigan is 2-3 overall and 0-1 in Big Ten play heading into Saturday's game at Rutgers, and clearly the program is struggling in terms of on-field production.
Hoke, who said Tuesday he has been in communication with Brandon, was asked about his relationship with his athletic director.
"I think we're all working toward the same goal," Hoke said. "We all want to win games and represent Michigan with the high character and integrity it deserves. We're very supportive of each other."
As for Morris, Hoke said he has been offering support and feels for him that he has become the centerpiece of this issue on a national level.
"The one thing about Shane, he's a tough kid," Hoke said. "He's a guy who's very competitive. And when you've played the game as long as he has, we're just making sure, No. 1 we're getting him healthy and doing a great job treating him. The other thing is, he's gained in maturity over the years. He's done a tremendous job representing our program."
Morris was diagnosed with a high left ankle sprain after the Minnesota game. He was clearly hobbled by the injury before taking the helmet-to-chin hit from Theiren Cockran.
Hoke has made a habit of not discussing injuries and would not offer anything further on Morris' playing status for this weekend. He said Monday that Morris was held out of practice Sunday night because of his ankle injury.
This leaves open the door for Gardner, the starter since last season, to regain his starting job. Morris replaced Gardner with about 11 minutes left in the Utah game, then earned his first regular-season start last week against Minnesota.
"He can contribute a lot and has contributed a lot from his leadership," Hoke said. "Devin right now is a guy who will have an opportunity again."
Michigan timeline: Shane Morris' injury
- Sophomore quarterback Shane Morris suffers an ankle injury during the third quarter of Michigan's game against Minnesota. Morris continues to play.
- Morris, with 11:24 left the fourth quarter, takes a high hit from Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Morris appears to be wobbly after the hit, which is noted by the ESPN game announcers. Morris remains in the game for another play, then is replaced by senior Devin Gardner. UM Michigan coach Brady Hoke later says he did not see the hit on Morris, or the aftermath.
- Gardner's helmet comes off during a play, meaning under the rules he has to come out for the next play, or the team has to call timeout. Morris goes in for Gardner for one play, handing off the ball.
- Hoke releases a statement that addresses Morris' leg injury but makes no mention of a possible head injury. Hoke also stresses in the statement that whether a player is healthy enough to play is not up to coaches, but trainers and physicians on the sideline.
- In his regular weekly news conference, Hoke says Morris was not diagnosed with a concussion. "Everything I know of, no," Hoke said. When asked if Morris was put through a sideline concussion protocol, Hoke declines to answer and said a statement from the medical department would be forthcoming.
- Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon releases a statement at 12:52 a.m. saying Morris suffered a "probable, mild concussion" during Saturday's game, adding there was "inadequate communication" between the team's doctors, medical staff and the coaching staff. Hoke did not get an update on Morris' status before Monday's news conference, Brandon added.
- In the statement, Brandon announces policy changes that include improvements to "sideline communication processes" and placing an athletic medicine professional in the press box during games to monitor player health.
- Michigan president Mark S. Schlissel releases a statement, saying "our system failed" in the on-field handling of Morris' injury. Schlissel vows a "thorough" review of in-game player safety procedures, and apologizes to Morris and his family. "We did not get this right," Schlissel writes.
- Michigan students organize a "Fire Brandon" rally on The Diag on Michigan's UM's campus for Tuesday evening.
The Detroit News