Minnesota Football: Jerry Kill Seizure - A Recap Of The Post Seizure Arguments And Why They Are Wrong

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The primary arguments advanced since Kill's seizure on Saturday are focused on PR, performance, the effect this has on fans, and medical concerns. Here is what I think is wrong with each of them.

Alright, the last article I wrote on this subject was about refuting stuff with logic and snark, but it was heavy on the snark. While it hit most of the high points I wanted to make, the takedown format meant that the overall pushback was a bit disjointed. My goal is to make this article your one stop (and more concise, sort of) shop for a recap of the common arguments that have arisen from the media and Twitter follow Coach Kill's latest seizure and what I think is wrong with each of them. I'm going to group them into 5 major categories: PR disaster, performance, medical concerns, effect on fans, and general dickishness (aka, pulling a Souhan).

NOTE: One major frustration in all this has been the number of assumptions media members and folks on Twitter have made without any evidence to support them. I pledge to avoid doing the same here. If you feel that I fail at any point, PLEASE call me out on it in the comments so I can retract the statement or clarify it in a way that removes the assumptions.

PR Disaster

This is the least important and least pernicious of the arguments. But in the same way, that makes things in this category frustrating to read and hear.

Before we start, let me say that I do think the media has some valid questions to ask. Coach Kill just missed a half of football. Earlier this year he told Joe Christensen the following:

"It’s not something I’m going to solve in a month," he said. "The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the Michigan State situation. You can’t be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I’m not stupid, I realize that.

"If I was doing those things, the university wouldn’t have to fire me. I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it. But that won’t happen because you’re talking to a guy that wasn’t supposed to be here anyway."

The emphasis above is mine. Coach Kill specifically said what just happened is an issue for a coach. It's reasonable for the media to want to ask things like:

- What did Coach Kill mean by that?

- In light of the recent episode, does he still believe this?

- If he doesn't, what has changed?

And so on. I think these are fair questions, because Kill himself called into question what a future episode might mean if it happened during a game.

With that out of the way, let's get to the different arguments in this section:

- Fans and media are owed an explanation, immediately. On the face of it, this makes sense. It's the media's job to ask questions right? I totally agree. But who ever said that the media would be denied an explanation? They were simply denied an immediate chance to ask Norwood Teague questions. If there was a reason for time sensitivity, I'd understand the concern. But I've yet to read (or come up with on my own) a reason why a press conference early this week isn't a perfectly valid time to ask the questions they want to ask.

The idea that a failure to answer questions postgame is a PR disaster feels like media entitlement.

Take the questions I offered above. There is nothing time sensitive about them. And questions I didn't already note, like "Does this change your thoughts about Kill's long term future at Minnesota?" aren't either. I don't like that sort of question, but if you're going to ask it at least recognize that it's not the sort of question that can be easily answered and that waiting a few days to get the response doesn't hurt anything. It's not like there is a scandal here where a few extra days will give Teague time to destroy documents or silence witnesses or whatever.

Honestly, the idea that a failure to answer questions postgame is a PR disaster feels like media entitlement. It also feels like the media publicly scolding Teague for not giving them the chance to do their jobs RIGHT THIS SECOND even though there really isn't a reason for it to happen right this second.

- Prepared statements are inappropriate. Why? Yesterday was about the medical side of things. Neither a spokesperson or Teague are the right person to answer any medical questions. Separate from my previous note about time sensitivity (or lack thereof) I'd argue that getting into questions about Kill's long term future or ability to perform his job aren't best asked the same day as the seizure. Again, I feel like the sports media is acting like their job is more important than it is. Coach Kill isn't the president. A president having a seizure means immediate questions deserve to be asked, even if they can't be answered immediately. This is not that.

- Teague isn't controlling the narrative. I totally agree. I'm a political wonk and I find that world and it's rules interesting. This isn't that world. For all the reasons I note above, there is no narrative to control unless the media decides it has to create it's own narrative. I don't like when that happens in politics (THIS IS AS CLOSE TO THE SPIDERS AS I WANT US TO GET FOLKS), but at least in that world there are often reasons why it can make more sense. Here it's just the media beast making a decision to set the narrative on their own.

Now, that said, I do still think this was a misstep by Teague. While I wholeheartedly think the media's position on this is off base, their reaction is also pretty predictable and I think the AD's office probably should have accounted for it. I don't think we're talking about a massive misstep (as furor over when questions get answered tends to be forgotten by most people rather quickly) but it is something I think could have been avoided.

The media CHOSE to ask those questions. If they were inappropriate, WHY DID THEY ASK THEM?

- The failure to answer questions now means coaches and players are put into an unfair position. This one really bugs me. To make it, media members have to pretend that they were somehow forced to ask the assistant coaches and the players these questions.

No one made them ask questions at gunpoint. The media CHOSE to ask those questions. If they were inappropriate to ask the players or coaches, THEN WHY DID THEY ASK THEM? This one is the media's fault, plain and simple.

Performance

This is the often unspoken (or obliquely spoken) concern that underpins a lot of the PR disaster arguments. I mean, these seizures have to be hurting the team right? It seems so logical. And it might very well be true to some degree. But as of yet, I don't think we've seen any proof that this is the case (or at least I don't think we've seen proof that the outcomes wouldn't have been the same without a seizure). So lets tackle the performance arguments one by one:

- The team can't perform without their head coach (i.e. seizures have or will cost the Gophers games). Basic right? Coach Kill is the head coach. You can't lose your head coach and expect the team to do as well. Again, this might be true. But can it be proven? Coach Kill has had 4 seizures in or around games (on the field vs. NMSU in '11, after Northwestern in '12, in the locker room at halftime MSU in '12, and on the field vs. Western Illinois this past weekend).

I'd argue that first three instances would have resulted in losses regardless of whether Coach Kill had a seizure. The Gophers had a shot to tie NMSU, but had not been performing well all game and were trying to convert a long 4th down. However, if I had to pick one, this is the game where I think the team was the most affected. Especially given the crucial time it happened during and the fact that it as Kill's first public seizure as coach of the Gophers. The Northwestern seizure didn't impact the NU game, but could have affected the UW game the following week. However, the game against the Badgers was one the Gophers were long shots in anyhow. I don't see Minnesota winning in Madison last year either way. The same goes for Michigan State. That's a game where Gopher fans could see the outcome coming at us like a slow moving freight train. Nothing in the team's performance in the first half leads me to believe Coach Kill being present would have brought a W. And the team beat Western Illinois, while playing better in the 2nd half (post seizure) then they did in the 1st half. So you can hardly claim performance issues there.

What does this mean? To me, it simply illustrates that the people putting this argument forward are making too assumptions and don't have any proof to back up their conjecture.

- The players can't handle the seizures. This is related to the above, but is more specific and involves even more assumptions. Here's a simple question for anyone putting forth this argument. Do you have a quote from a player saying this is true? No? Then you're making an unsubstantiated assumption. "That's how I would feel" doesn't fix your argument's problems. Are you playing for the Gophers? No? Then what you would do doesn't matter.

- It's hurting recruiting. Elliot knocked this one down quite ably Saturday night.

If your point is that people with epilepsy can't be coaches, then you are for discrimination and bigotry.

- The seizures mean Kill can't handle the job. This one has a lot to unpack. Can't handle the job by what standard? If the category for the standard is wins and losses, then we don't have enough info to make that call yet. And if it's anything else, you've moved into subjective territory.

It's not just what category of standard either. Whose interpretation are we using to say Kill is failing at the job? The media member who is asking? The Twitter user's standard? The only standard that matters is Norwood Teague's, but you can't speculate using that standard can you?

If your point in making this argument is that people with epilepsy can't be coaches, then you are for discrimination and bigotry towards folks with this chronic medical condition. If Coach Kill truly isn't able to perform well enough due to the seizures, then his win/loss record will show it. At that point, Coach Kill will be fired for the performance metric that matters and that all other coaches are judged on. In other words, it will be fair. Or, we may just find that all of this talk is just that, talk. In that case, Coach Kill will prove his doubters wrong. As a fan of the Gophers, I know which one I'm rooting for.

Medical Concerns

Many folks commenting have expressed a concern for Coach Kill's health. While these concerns seem to be well intentioned, they are presumptuous and misguided. Since the most common forms of this concern that I've seen share a common theme, I'm going to combine them and respond to them all at once.

- Coach Kill could die on the field.

- This job is bad for Coach Kill's health.

There are other forms of these arguments, but these are the most common and cover most (if not all) of the metaphorical bases. The primary issue I've got with this sort of arguments is that they are being made by people who aren't doctors or medical professionals of any kind. They're being made by sportswriters, other bloggers, and fans. In other words, the people LEAST QUALIFIED to make pronouncements about Coach Kill's health and medical conditions.

The people LEAST QUALIFIED to make pronouncements about Kill's health are saying they know best.

The other major problem I have is that these pronouncements are being made based on things that these folks are reading on the internet. I don't say that to critique or downplay the source material. I don't have the background or experience to do that and the sources folks have been linking to seem legit to me.

What I am capable of doing is reading the same sources and realizing that the medical conditions they discuss are VERY complex. Additionally, much of the material isn't written so lay people can diagnosis others or make pronouncements about their prognosis. They are informational tools for people suffering from epilepsy and their families and are designed to help them get into the right frame of mind so that when they speak with their health care providers they can ask good questions and take an active role in their care.

What do I mean when I say the material is complex? Well, many people are saying they fear Coach Kill will die from something called SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy). The material on SUDEP is sobering. The issue is that a lay person is going to have no idea what Kill's risk factor is for SUDEP. The link I supplied (which is the one I've seen used most commonly) lists 6 risk factors for SUDEP:

The greatest risk factor for SUDEP is frequent seizures, especially generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures.

Other risk factors being investigated include:

  • Early age of epilepsy onset or long duration of epilepsy
  • Not taking medications as prescribed
  • Stopping or changing medications abruptly
  • Young adult age (20-40 years old)
  • Intellectual disability (IQ<70)

Coach Kill is definitely affected by the most important factor. Of the other 5, 3 of them (age of onset, current age, and IQ) don't apply and that the other two (the med factors) aren't something a layperson has any information to judge off of. So what is Kill's risk factor? The same site says the following:

The rate of SUDEP is approximately one death per 1,000 people with epilepsy per year.However, in people with frequent epileptic seizures that are poorly controlled with medications, the rate is approximately 1 in 150 per year.

So Coach Kill is in the 1 in 150 right? Well, maybe. What is the definition of "poorly controlled with medications?" Does Coach Kill's condition meet that definition? We as lay people have no idea. The only people qualified to determine Coach Kill's risk of SUDEP are his care team, the folks who know everything about his medical history and current treatments. And none of them have shared any public concerns about Coach Kill remaining a head coach.

Material that isn't written to help those suffering from epilepsy is either written for epilepsy advocacy (i.e. to make you care about it) or often comes in the form of statistics about the number of cases or deaths. And much like the material discussed above, these numbers are complex. For instance, the death statistics typically include multiple causes of death in a single statistic without specifying what % of the deaths can be attributed to each category. In other words, they're the sort of high level numbers that a layperson can easily misinterpret or misuse.

All of that hasn't stopped multiple media members and many across the Twitterverse from playing armchair MD however. So let me give you a simple test that will help anyone reading this know if they are qualified to make pronouncements about Kill's health:

1) Are you a physician?

2) Do you have experience treating epilepsy?

3) Have you examined Coach Kill and are you familiar with his medical history and current treatment plan?

The only people qualified to assess the risks Coach Kill may face are the members of his medical team.


If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you don't know what you're talking about. And that's ok, I don't know what I'm talking about on that front either. The difference is that I'm not saying that I know what risks Coach Kill is facing or what course of action is best for his health. As I said above, the only people qualified to assess the risks Coach Kill may face are the members of his care team at the U and Mayo. The only people qualified to decide the best course of action for his future is Coach Kill, his family, and his medical team.

The next set of arguments are a combination of armchair MD and assumption making:

- You shouldn't coach if there is a chance you could die.

- The stress in coaching is unique and Coach Kill's condition means he is at extra risk.

Leaving out the fact that anyone could die (because that's a lame counter argument) this ignores all the other coaches who have been at some level of risk. To those making this argument, I have a simple question...Are you ok with Mark Dantonio coaching? Coach Dantonio had a heart attack. Stress is a known factor in heart problems along with poor diet, hereditary factors, etc.  Poor diets are often a problem for coaches. If you're concerned about coaches with medical conditions that are stress based or that could result in death, shouldn't you be calling for Mark Dantonio to resign based on the risks he is taking?

Now, that would be a terrible argument that relied on assumptions and medical knowledge that I and others don't possess. But if you're going to down that road with Kill, I have to ask if/why you never did so with other coaches who meet your criteria of risk.

The last related argument concerns Coach Kill's family:

- This is taking a toll on his family and their well-being. I have another simple test.

1) Are you Coach Kill?

2) Are you a member of his family?

If the answer to both of these is no, then stop writing or talking about what the seizures mean to his family immediately.

How The Seizures Affect The Fans

Oh boy, where to start...

- Coach Kill shouldn't coach because his seizures are upsetting to fans/TV viewers/etc. This is the most pernicious of the arguments. It's also the most discriminatory. It assumes that we as outside observers have some right to control over Coach Kill's life and decisions because we are fearful, uncomfortable, or ill-informed. WE. DO. NOT.

We as outside observers don't have the right to control Coach Kill's life and decisions because we are fearful, uncomfortable, or ill-informed about epilepsy.


The fact that many are putting it forward like it is a strong case for Kill to resign is both baffling and maddening. Whether the person pushing the idea means it or not, this is an insulting and demeaning position to take. Especially since it will punish the person with the disability/medical condition and not the person who is unable to display empathy or self awareness. I have to ask why people advancing this argument think it's acceptable in the case of epilepsy? Would it have been ok to ask Mark Mangino to step down as Kansas' head coach because he was overweight and some felt he was setting a bad example for his players? Would it be ok to ask a coach with a speech impediment to step down because some fans found his speech embarrassing or uncomfortable to watch?

No, it wouldn't. Frankly, this whole line of thinking is LUDICROUS.  The other version is only slightly less offensive.

- Coach Kill should coach from the pressbox so fans don't have to see his seizures. I see. So Coach Kill is capable of coaching, but the delicate feelings and constitutions of some fans mean that he can't coach in the manner that he finds to be most effective? This is ridiculous for all the reasons I've already mentioned and I say again, it's just wrong.

Pulling A Souhan

As I noted above, this is the place for all arguments that are made for the purpose of general dickishness. Congrats Jim, you get your own section. Why? Because you said Coach Kill is as good having seizures as he is at winning football games. Because you used your armchair MD knowledge to accuse everyone calling you out for your horrible column as cold heartless monsters who don't care about Jerry Kill. Because you suggested that people were ridiculing Coach Kill and the U for his seizure when the only person I can see who is doing anything close to that is you. Because you said Kill's seizures means he can't be a good face of the program of University. You are a hack Jim. You are a terrible columnist who can't take deserved criticism.

So be proud Jim. Because the people sharing this section with you are the Twitter trolls. The people who think it's funny to mock Coach Kill and make jokes about the seizures. The lowest of the low in the online sports community. The ones you would mock as living in their mother's basement. Those are your people Jim. I'm sure you're very proud.

Oh wait, was I supposed to rebut your dreck? Sorry, I don't have time to scrape the bottom of my shoe right now. Maybe later.

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