Purdue donor questions president on Speight injury

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Joe Norsworthy received his master’s degree from Purdue, but did his undergrad work at the University of Florida.

Given the state of affairs in football, he’s a much bigger Florida football fan — and is excited that his daughter plans to attend school there, and play lacrosse, in the coming years.

“But if the facilities were like that,” said Norsworthy, “as much as I love the University of Florida, no way you’re gonna be an athlete at a place like that.”

Norsworthy, a retired travel and tourism executive from Florida, was among the Purdue fans stunned by revelations made in The Detroit News on Friday, when Bobby Speight, the father of Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, went public with his vivid description of how his son was treated in West Lafayette, Ind., after fracturing three back vertebrae during a game Sept. 23.

Among Bobby Speight’s claims were that Purdue did not have X-ray capabilities at Ross-Ade Stadium, that there was no police escort for the van taking his son to the student health center, and that Speight, in uniform and pain, was stopped and asked for his insurance before being treated.

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Norsworthy was so distraught, he fired off an email to Purdue president Mitch Daniels, demanding an explanation.

Once at the student health center, The News reported, X-rays couldn’t be transmitted, and there was no full-time EMS unit available when the Speights, accompanied by Michigan doctors, requested to be transferred to an area hospital. At the hospital, there was no back brace available.

Purdue also is facing criticism that athletic facilities for visiting teams aren’t up to proper standards, as first charged by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh two days after that Sept. 23 game. Among his claims, the locker room was sweltering with no air conditioning, and urinals were minimal.

Norsworthy took to Twitter, saying Purdue should be “embarrassed and ashamed,” especially when it routinely — like most universities — hits up alums as part of big capital campaigns.

Later, Norsworthy spoke to The News.

“They do it very well,” Norsworthy said of Purdue’s fundraising campaigns. “They’ve done great things with the money, and I’m very proud of what Purdue has been doing.

“But, you known, this — it’s a dereliction. There’s no other way to say it.”

The reaction around the Internet was swift and harsh toward Purdue on Friday, particularly on social media.

ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” devoted much of their morning show to talking about The News exclusive, and one current Michigan football player jumped into the fray.

Offensive tackle Grant Newsome, who suffered a serious leg injury during last year’s game against Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium and remains sidelined, tweeted, “If I had gotten the @WiltonSpeight PU treatment, I would currently be an amputee.”

Boiled Sports, a Purdue fan site, wrote on Twitter: “... Purdue needs to explain the whole situation. Provide a tour of facilities.”

Some, however, believe Michigan should not be absolved of all blame in the incident.

Matthew Clark, an account clerk at Purdue, wrote in the comments section on The News’ story: “It’s not all on Purdue. Speight walked off the field. That was a Michigan decision. Not a Purdue one. If the Michigan training staff thought this was a back injury to begin with, he should have been immobilized and placed on a backboard on the field, and not walked off the field.”

Some Michigan fans don’t see it that way.

“Wilton’s parents should not have had to go public,” Tyler Patterson, a 1999 Michigan graduate who’s a lawyer in Kansas City, Mo., said to The News in an email. “Harbaugh’s call to arms should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Harbaugh stood up and told everyone there was a problem. Purdue hand-waved it publicly and certain members of the national media treated it like it was a joke.”

Patterson also questioned why Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel hasn’t been more outspoken on the issue. Manuel declined comment, through a spokesman, when contacted by The News on Friday.

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There also was little response from Purdue, the Big Ten and NCAA on Friday.

A spokesperson for Purdue referred all questions to the athletic department, where a spokesperson said the department has no additional comment beyond its original statement following Harbaugh’s claims last month — that, “Basic X-ray is available within our athletic footprint and more-sophisticated capabilities are located two blocks away, similar to the arrangements at many other schools. Our sports medicine staff members, in fact, have received numerous compliments from their Michigan counterparts regarding the care they received at Purdue.”

Purdue sticks by its claims that a Michigan staff member did a walk-through of Purdue’s locker-room facilities over the summer and reported no issues, a claim that is disputed in an internal Michigan memo, as also reported by The News.

A spokesperson for the Purdue Student Health Center referred questions to the athletic department.

The Big Ten declined to comment Friday, and the NCAA didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Mike Berghoff, the chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, told The News that he had not read the article with Bobby Speight’s claims, and referred questions to Purdue’s communications staff.

A message left for Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski was not returned Friday.

Norsworthy, an annual donor to Purdue and a member of the school’s “President’s Council” donor group, said he’s a generally positive person and doesn’t want to be perceived as negative. Still, the Speight story certainly struck a nerve.

“In this day and age, and with (Purdue’s) focus on science ... I’m guessing, they probably do a lot of things at Purdue to advance the very equipment that they’re not using,” said Norsworthy, who earned his master’s in science and management from Purdue in 1992 — and who said his email to Purdue’s president was similar to the comments he made to The News. “It’s shocking. You know there’s gonna be injuries in a sport like that. That is quite surprising and hard for me to understand how that happened.

“And if that happens in other places,” he added, “then shame on them, too.”