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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Coach's Condition can be a Teachable Moment

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  • Though I've only been in St. James for a couple weeks, I've already detected strong sentiment in the community for the University of Minnesota's athletic teams among much of this town's population; so, I know many are familiar with the saga of Jerry Kill--the head football coach of the Golden Gophers. For those unaware, Kill has epilepsy, and he's suffered multiple seizures during games in his tenure as coach. After having his fifth game-day seizure before a loss to Michigan October 5, Kill took an indefinite medical leave to spend time with doctors and try to learn about controlling his condition. Since then, he's still been around the team, providing a rousing halftime speech in the win over Northwestern and overseeing the field from the press box during the Nebraska win. While the victory over the Cornhuskers was perhaps the program's biggest win in a decade--and the Gophers continued their hot streak by beating Indiana in a high-scoring thriller Saturday--Kill's most important victory will be educating people about epilepsy, and his condition should function as a proverbial “teachable moment.” Isn't that a university's main charge--to educate? After all, 2.5-3 million Americans have epilepsy, which equates to 8-9 out of every 1,000 people. In other words, since Minnesota's average home attendance was $46,637 in 2012, about 400 fans in the stands for any of those games had something very personal in common with the home team's head coach. Now, I'm no doctor, and my only experience with seizures is when my childhood pet basset hound had them, but hopefully this column can help clear up some misconceptions about epilepsy, so we can all better understand what Kill is fighting--and why the man who won consistently at both Southern and Northern Illinois remains the right coach for the Gophers. According to a piece written for the Epilepsy Foundation by Dr. Orrin Devinsky and Dr. Robert Fisher, people with the condition are seldon brain damaged, they're rarely cognitively challenged, they are not violent, crazy, or mentally ill, and seizures do not cause brain damage. In other words, there is no reason to believe the Kill's affliction will impact his decision-making as a coach. In fact, according to Sally Fletcher's book “The Challenge of Epilepsy,” Julius Caesar, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Tchaikovsky, Vincent Van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Alfred Nobel all had epilepsy--and they managed to do pretty well for themselves. There's no reason Kill can't do likewise, achieving victories on--and off--the field.
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