Ted Agu was a former walkon and defensive end for the Cal Golden Bears, and by all accounts was a great teammate who was well-liked by his teammates. He was going to be a fifth year senior this upcoming season, and was coming off a year where he had earned a scholarship and played in seven games.
On February 7th, Agu was taking part in an offseason conditioning practice when he began having difficulty completing a workout. He was taken to the medical center, where he collapsed and died after medics attempted to revive him with CPR. Agu's death is a tragedy; not only was he a hardworking young man who never missed a practice, he was a diligent student who wanted to go to medical school some day.
His death is sad for those reasons alone, and Bret Bielema just made it worse.
Bielema's pet project this offseason has been to encourage the NCAA to pass a rule stating that the offense cannot snap the ball until at least ten seconds has passed on the playclock. Bielema claims that this is being done in the interest of player safety. Pretty much everyone else claims that this is being done in the interest of Bret Bielema not having to worry about hurry-up offenses run over his ass on a weekly basis (people are saying the same thing about Nick Saban too, but since he's actually successful he's got a lot more defenders).
When asked for proof, Bielema cited Agu. This is despite Agu never having any related issues in his previous four years at Cal, and a coroner's report that won't be available for weeks.
The initial problem with what Bielema said (aside from callously using a recent death as a ploy to campaign with) is that he's about as far away from a medical anything as you can possibly get. A literal pig farmer shouldn't be hijacking a man's tragic death just to tout a rule change in football, even if he claims that it's related to a sickle cell trait that appears to be a common link between several football related deaths. The sickle cell trait may in fact be a contributor to the health problems that many players experience, but Bielema also says that
"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?
"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"
Well gosh Bret, maybe he could do what players have been doing since the dawn of time and, I don't know, take a knee or lay down or something? And guess what, if you don't like that the onus is on the struggling player to alert an official, maybe you and your medical staff should be a little more observant and alert an official to that kind of situation yourselves. I promise they aren't going to ignore you, despite trying as hard as they can for the majority of the time that you're bloviating obnoxiously.
What really pisses me off about Bielema's comments and overall stance on this issue is that he's also completely ignoring the fact that his patented brand of man ball is potentially as ruinous to a player's health as any hurry up offense ever could be.
Case in point: from 2011 through 2012, while Bret was still the head coach at Wisconsin, running back Montee Ball had more carries than any other person in college football. Behind what were often eight and nine man fronts, Ball rushed 664 times into stacked defenses. In a time period when we're starting to learn the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the body and head on football players, Bielema chose to ignore those dangers and deliberately put his players in a position to sustain more physical trauma than any other team in the country.
This is why people are calling Bielema a jerk for using Agu's death as "evidence" that his rule is necessary; he's acting as if a ten second slowdown is some kind of panacea for what's killing people, while looking the other way as his star running back and offensive linemen repeatedly sacrificed their bodies in his meat grinder of an offense.
I can't read Bret Bielema's mind; maybe somehow he really does believe that the ten second wait period rule will help player safety and that his brand of football is somehow less dangerous than what a guy like Gus Malzahn or Urban Meyer likes to run.
But even if he's genuine in his completely insensitive advocacy for his asinine rule proposal, even if he really does see himself as some kind of champion of player safety, maybe he should take a long look around his glass house first and notice the six hundred and sixty-three stones he threw from 2011 to 2012. Or maybe just call Montee Ball in 15 years to ask about the results of his latest brain scan. In any case, I hope that Bielema realizes that he can take immediate action to protect his players from injury and health risks. Of course, it would take him changing the way his teams play offense. And maybe he's just not willing to do that.
Player safety matters, now more than ever. And if a ten second delay would help that, then I'm all for it. But if football is going to take these things seriously, they need to be discussed seriously, with evidence and careful analysis. Allowing a fetid turd like Bielema to dominate the discussion with offhanded, insensitive remarks is at best counterproductive, and at worst exploitative of a tragedy that we don't have all the answers for yet.
We need to understand why Ted Agu died, so that we can make the game safer for the people that play it. We also need Bret Bielema to shut the hell up.