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Minnesota Football: Jerry Kill Seizure - Or Why People Without MD's Need To Stop It

Over the past 24 hours, the internet has been filled with calls for Jerry Kill to resign or be fired. I'm going to fisk several of these misguided notions in detail.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports


- This is my "tear the nonsense apart" piece. This is the piece to make me feel better and offer ridicule when it is needed. The shorter, more concise breakdown of the bad reasoning with the measured responses is coming in a separate post. Consider this to be a palate cleanser. Many of the things I say here will be in the other post, but they'll be tied together in a more coherent fashion. If that's what you are looking for, then give me another hour or two.

- This is a long post. I did my best to avoid fisking every line of every article. I failed.

- I'm not addressing "regular" folks from Twitter. There was too much nonsense and they don't deserve the notoriety anyhow. Besides, the media left me with plenty to work with.

So with that, let's take a look. I'm going to respond to 3 people: Derek Wetmore, Jim Souhan, and Gregg Doyel. For the articles I quote, I urge you to read the entire linked piece if you haven't already. I want folks to have every opportunity to point out if they think I am taking someone out of context or whatnot.

Derek Wetmore - ESPN 1500

Derek tackled the U's reaction to the seizure and stayed away from directly calling for Coach Kill or the U to make a decision. Instead, he focused on his belief that the U has mishandled the story from a PR standpoint. Let's take a look at his story:

After the game the University's athletics department mishandled the situation and pushed the game's events even further into the background.

"Coach Kill's condition has been documented by the media in town and nationally. Fans are aware that he has epilepsy and that situations like this can happen," senior associate AD Chris Werle said after Kill's third in-game seizure while with Minnesota. "With that being said, we don't feel the need to take any further questions on the matter."

In other words, 'This has happened before, there's no new information so we're not going to talk about it.'

And that's true to an extent. What more can they say that hasn't been addressed?

But considering the frequency of his gameday seizures, dodging the discussion is the wrong approach. Kill's condition has evolved as a cause for legitimate concern, as fair questions resurface about his ability to stay on the field and perform his job.

There are some problems here right from the start. This is the point where Derek should be listing the concerns and questions. Instead, he leaves them unsaid and allows the reader to assume what they might be. If you have legitimate concerns, you need to raise them. I'd argue that several of the lines of questioning he could go with aren't fair, but until I see some questions I can't really judge which direction Derek would go. In the meantime, all he's done is say "I think the U's response is mostly okay except for the ambiguous questions I haven't shared yet."

This is a private health matter, of course. But Kill is also a very public figure. At a time when the head football coach at a major university is more recognizable than the president of that university, questions about a coach's ability to fulfill the job duties are fair.

I'll say again, what questions? Derek hasn't raised any yet.

It wasn't Kill's first public seizure, and to that end, it's fair that the department and team took a 'no-big-deal' approach. It wasn't as sobering as the first time Kill went down during the climactic moments of a game in 2011. Then, much of the mystery surrounding Kill's epilepsy remained. Now, while epilepsy is still a frustrating personal medical riddle, we're slightly more informed as a public and as media.

Even as an objective observer of the events of the game, you're concerned for Kill.

And yet, you'd like to see better practices in public relations following this latest event.

Most of this sounds pretty good. He acknowledges that the U handled things the right way by not turning the episode into a major event and he admits a concern for Kill that is completely understandable. But then the "and yet" PR statement drops. Derek, I doubt you meant it to come off badly, but your concern for Coach Kill isn't an appropriate lead in to PR critiques because it's an area of importance to the press but not most folks and it's an area much less important than Kill health.

Athletics Director Norwood Teague did not speak after the game. He will speak later this week, according to the department. In a 24-hour news cycle, however, not addressing a public incident creates more room for speculation and unanswered questions.

Strike one.

I find it interesting that media folks always talk about the 24 hours new cycle like they don't play any part in it. You know what also creates speculation? Media folks speculating despite not having enough info or experience to do so in any meaningful way. That's not what Derek does here (Souhan's turn is coming), his is an error of omission that is common to media when talking about news cycles.

Instead, Werle read a prepared statement and then refused to take questions.

Strike two.

Ok, why is it a strike? You still haven't explained what useful or legitimate questions you or other members of the media might ask.

Acting head coach Tracy Claeys then had to answer the questions on Kill. (The sense from listening to Claeys is that the players and the rest of Kill's staff is well-equipped to handle the situation. They're mindful of the health of their boss, but they're accustomed to the uncertainty.) Claeys, who has worked with Kill since 1995, addressed the situation admirably but that shouldn't be his burden.

Why shouldn't it be his burden? I don't want it to be his burden, but why is Derek the arbiter of what Coach Claeys should be handling? And if you don't think the questions are ones he should have to answer, why do you not call out members of the media for asking them anyway? No one is forcing the media to ask Claeys questions about Kill. Lastly, is Derek saying that Claeys would have received no questions about Kill if Teague had spoken? I'm sorry, but I have trouble believing that.

Teague's handling of Kill's latest episode is untenable; fans and the media deserve better than that.

We deserve what exactly? I do find it interesting what the sports media feels it is entitled to sometimes. An update was given about Kill's condition and status. At this point, Derek has not listed any questions he thinks the media deserves the chance to ask. It's just an assumed that there are questions, they must be valid, and they should have been able to ask them immediately. Norwood Teague is giving a press conference on Monday. I don't see why the unnamed questions are not valid on Monday as well.

When Claeys concluded, several student-athletes had to answer questions about the coach. That's strike three.

Yes it is. FOR THE MEDIA. No one forced the media members to ask players about Coach Kill. If the players shouldn't be asked the questions because Teague should get them, they shouldn't be asked them AT ALL. Don't blame Teague for choices media members made on their own.

The problem with having Claeys and student-athletes field questions is they're in no position to answer the largest elephant in the room: can Jerry Kill coach this team if his recurring seizures prevent him from being on the field during games?

They work for Kill. The only person who can answer that line of questioning is Kill's boss, Teague. If Teague believes Kill can continue to do the job, a post-game press conference offered the perfect opportunity to let everyone know.

Here we go, specific question. Good. It's a question whose answer is made more complex given some of Coach Kill's previous statements and I understand why the media wants to ask it. However, I don't see why it is a time sensitive question. Is there something that will change between now and Monday that requires an answer immediately post-game? I certainly can't think of one.

You know what else offers the perfect opportunity to answer the question? A scheduled press conference set up to discuss questions just like this. Which oddly enough is what the U is holding on Monday.

A canned statement and a refusal to field questions, no matter the reason, is a weak attempt to control the message. It's irresponsible.

Derek isn't wrong. However, I'll note that the only reason there is a message to control is because the media is interjecting itself into this event and forcing the need for control. There is no scandal here. No coverup. Coach Kill had a seizure and the U is going to address it on Monday instead of immediately post-game. Why is that a problem?

Yes, we've been through this before and many questions have been addressed. But each seizure is not simply an iteration of a previous episode; it's more complex than that.

It is? Why? It is very likely that he will have more seizures. What his epilepsy may or may not mean for him as a coach is a complex question. Any individual events are not, so long as they follow the pattern of his previous seizures (i.e. limited duration, non-life threatening, etc). In the absence of a change in the type of seizures, the U is right to treat them as normal (something Derek already applauded them for).

Kill has also addressed the doubts that he's healthy enough for the job. In an in-depth piece by the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen, Kill was quoted as saying: "You can't be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I'm not stupid, I realize that."

As I said above, this is where I think the good questions can come in.

- What did Coach Kill mean by that?

- In light of a seizure that did exactly what Kill said could be a problem, what are the long term plans?

Not all of these questions will have answers now. And given the complexity of them, they are also not questions best answered immediately post-game. Again, why the time sensitivity beyond wanting to know RIGHT NOW? Also, a note: If you're a media member and you expect Kill or Teague to give you an answer mid-season that goes into his long term future as coach then you are being disingenuous or you are an idiot.

Kill has used his public forum to address his own toughness in facing this and other personal adversity. He's also used it to speak up more about his condition and inform a large contingent of people who might otherwise be misinformed. Both of those are commendable, but they can't overshadow the scrutiny the program faces with unanswered questions about the health of its head football coach.

It's the media's job to ask those questions.

It's Teague's job to answer them.

And you'll all get to play your part in this little dance on Monday. In the meantime, you still haven't explained why it was time sensitive.

Ok, that's it for Derek Wetmore. While I feel much of his framing and his choice to ignore the media's role in this event are frustrating, the core question he raised is valid. It's just his demand that it be answered RIGHT NOW that is misguided. Moving on.

Gregg Doyel - CBS Sports

Greg treads much of the same ground as our final contestant, but he does so in a way that makes it clear that he isn't asking his questions with malice. He's just asking them without understanding why they are insulting or misguided. Here's the article I'll be quoting from.

Jerry Kill suffered his fourth seizure in 22 games as head coach of Minnesota on Saturday, raising a question that is awkward to ask about any grown man, much less one as kindly as Jerry Kill. And make no mistake, this is a kindly man. When he was coaching Southern Illinois, Kill started a foundation to help low-income patients fight cancer.

Let me start by saying I honestly think Gregg likes Coach Kill (or at least has a favorable impression of him, as like assumes they've met).

But make no mistake about this, too: Jerry Kill's epilepsy is a major concern -- and not just for Jerry Kill.

There will be people, maybe even most people who read this story, who will fall back on the default position that Kill is a grown man; if he wants to risk dying on the sideline -- doing what he loves -- that's his choice.

And you know what? In a vacuum, that's 100 percent correct. If Jerry Kill is OK with the risk to himself, who are any of us to tell him he's wrong? That's not our business.

But this issue, and these seizures, aren't happening in a vacuum. They're happening on game day, often right there on the sideline. This is an issue that's bigger than Jerry Kill and the personal risks he's willing to assume. What about the risks everyone else assumes? What if he has a fatal seizure during a game, in full view of the stadium?

That's our business.

No Gregg, it's not. I'll get to the problems with the assumptions of death in a bit. For now, I'm going to stick with the idea that those of us watching the games from the stands, press box, or on TV have any say in this. WE DON'T. We don't know him personally, he isn't our father, or son, or brother, or grandpa, or husband, etc. He is our coach or a man we cover for our job. Does Gregg Doyel think it would be appropriate to tell Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts that it was his epilepsy was Greg's business because he could die in the courtroom? If yes, I'd applaud him for consistency. But I suspect John Roberts would have some things to say on why that stance is unsound logically, legally, and as a matter of basic fairness.

And that seems to be a legitimate risk, given that Jerry Kill has suffered four seizures in 22 games. The math is pretty easy: Since being hired by Minnesota before the 2011 season, Kill has suffered a seizure every five or six games -- and the frequency is increasing. He has suffered three seizures in the last 11 games, and was unable to finish two of them.

Quite a bit wrong here.

- You're not a doctor Gregg. You read something on the internet (that he notes later). You don't have the training, experience, or personal interaction with Coach Kill to know what he is and is not at risk for.

- You don't know anything about frequency. You know about the frequency of the public seizures, but not how they fit in with any he is having in private. And again, you don't have the medical training to make knowledgeable conclusions about what it all means anyhow.

This is a problem, and a heartbreaking problem at that. You think this is me, coldly and unsympathetically wondering if Jerry Kill should resign? Don't think that. This is me feeling terrible for a man who has devoted much of his life to football, and who reached the pinnacle of his profession in 2011 when he made it into the Big Ten as a head coach -- and who is doing a great job. At Minnesota his teams have gone 3-9, then 6-7, and now 3-0 early in 2013.

Of course Jerry Kill doesn't want to resign. He wants to keep using his platform to raise money for low-income cancer patients, and to keep using his platform to raise awareness about epilepsy. He's a spokesman at the state and national levels, and he and his wife, Rebecca, are acting as hosts for a second annual epilepsy awareness game Oct. 26 vs. Nebraska.

Kill is doing good work for Minnesota football, and for epilepsy patients, and I'm thinking about that as I write this.

I was serious when I said I honestly believe that Gregg is concerned for Coach Kill. That's not going to fix the arguments made above or the ones to come though.

But I'm also thinking about everyone else in the stadium the next time Kill has a seizure during a game, whether it's at home or on the road.

Yep. This is what I was talking about. This argument is quite literally one of "epilepsy is horrible for people to watch and therefore Coach Kill should be forced to give up his job and his dreams because people don't like watching seizures." Wrong on every level. If this logic makes sense, then Charlie Weiss shouldn't be allowed to coach because some people are uncomfortable seeing overweight people. Kevin Sumlin shouldn't coach because some people have problems watching an African American man coach a football team (from the South no less!). Is that last one an extreme comparison? Yes. But they are all premised on the same idea, that people watching the games should be able to push a coach out of a job because something about him makes us uncomfortable. Not because he is a bad coach or is losing games or is cheating. But because we as fans and the media are uncomfortable. It's a stunningly bad position to take.

People die from epileptic seizures. It's called Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and according to it happens to about one in 1,000 epilepsy sufferers per year. But the odds go way up for people who, like Kill, have more frequent seizures -- as high as one in 150 people.

Could Jerry Kill be that one in 150? Gosh I hope not. You hope nobody dies from epilepsy ever again, but denial doesn't do any good. People really do die every year from epileptic seizures, and Jerry Kill really does have multiple seizures every year, and his seizures really do seem to be increasing in frequency, exacerbated by the stress of coaching a Big Ten football team on game day.

Say it with me Gregg. "I am not a doctor." The problem he links to, SUDEP, is sobering. But here's the problem. He has no idea what Kill's risk factor is for this. He knows what he read on the internet, but even then, he's disregarding the fact that 3 of the 6 listed risk factors don't apply to Coach Kill and that the other two (related to meds) are factors he has no way to know anything about. All he knows is that Kill has frequent seizures and that this can be a factor in SUDEP. It's unbelievably presumptuous on his part. The only people qualified to determine Coach Kill's risk of SUDEP are his doctors (and he's got some of the best in the world BTW). And the only people qualified to make decisions based on what the doctors tell him are Coach Kill and his family. FULL STOP.

That's Jerry Kill's job. But should it be? I'm not asking for him. Apparently he's decided what's best for him, and that's his right.

Excellent. Glad to see you caught up Gregg. Oh wait, you're not done.

But what about what's best for everyone else?

Who gets to make that decision?

No one does Gregg. What the rest of us want doesn't matter. Unless you like the idea of forcing people out of their jobs because the rest of us are uncomfortable with their medical conditions.

Jim Souhan - Star Tribune

Link if you need it.

A long time ago, a smart college administrator realized that a football team would inspire more enthusiasm than an English department. A good college football team could become a billboard, a siren, a mint. A good college football coach could become a Pied Piper, a magnet for attention and money.

That’s how it is supposed to work. That’s not how it worked on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, where the University of Minnesota’s football program, and by extension the entire school, became the subject of pity and ridicule.

That's a strong start if you're trying to troll. The U become the subject of pity and ridicule? Because our head coach suffered a seizure? What uncaring monster would ridicule someone for having a seizure? If you know someone ridiculing Kill for this Jim then this whole column should be used to mock them endlessly. And pity...the only person who should feel bad about anyone showing pity is the person feeling the pity. It suggests that person doesn't understand what epilepsy is or the fact that despite seizures people can live normal lives. Pity is one reason that makes people with epilepsy hide it from the world.

Jerry Kill suffered another seizure on another game day, and this time his boss chose to pretend nothing was wrong.

I see that Jim never bothered to read his own paper's work on this subject, as Joe C. covered in depth how seizures do not stop people from living normal lives and that Kill does not want his seizures treated as earth stopping events.

How can a school continue to employ a football coach who has had four seizures during or after the 16 home games he has coached at the school, along with an unknown number of seizures away from the public eye?

Easy, they direct deposit his paycheck like always and don't take away his keys to the building. What are you suggesting here Jim?

How can the athletic director in charge of that coach avoid speaking publicly about such a public and newsworthy event?

Answer, he doesn't. He just chooses to do so at a different time. What questions do you have that are time sensitive Jim?

Kill suffers a seizure on game day as the coach of the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium exactly as often as he wins a Big Ten game. He’s 4-for-16 in both categories.

Yup. Jim Souhan just said Jerry Kill is 4 for 16 in seizures and Big Ten wins. Classless doesn't even being to describe this. I should stop now but I won't.

His latest epileptic seizure, suffered on Saturday, evokes sympathy for him and his family. He appears to be a good man earnestly trying to elevate a woeful program while searching for ways to manage his disease.

I don't think the man comparing seizures to Big Ten wins gets to talk about sympathy. Jerry Kill may get sympathy from folks Jim, but he's clearly not getting it from as terrible a person as you.

Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.

Jim is a mind reader in addition to being an asshole? Wow. I didn't realize I wanted Coach Kill to step down until just now. Thanks Jim! Also, are you a doctor? No? Then how are you qualified to diagnose someone's health in a newspaper column?

The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.

There is a LOT to unpack here that is FLAT. OUT. WRONG.

1) Remember kids with epilepsy, you aren't allowed to lead normal lives of hold jobs that put you in public. Why? Because...

2) Some people find epilepsy upsetting. Those people don't need to learn to deal with it though, it's the people who suffer from epilepsy who should quit and go into a job in a dungeon or something.

3) Recruiting isn't a problem.

4) Entertainment dollars? Gee, I guess comparing seizures to Big Ten wins wasn't crass enough for you Jim.

Kill’s case is sad. He did good work his entire life to reach a position that his system can no longer handle.

Says the STrib's resident Dr. Nick Riviera clone. Seriously, whatever medical school credentialed this guy should be ashamed.

His boss’ case is sad in a much different way. Norwood Teague has supported Kill and, in the case of bumping North Carolina off the schedule in favor of a high school-quality program named New Mexico State, Teague has done his bidding.

I see that supporting a coach with seizures is now the same as scheduling decisions. I'm learning so much.

Saturday, when those generous enough to express interest in the Gophers football program asked to speak with Teague about Kill’s condition and the ramifications of his latest collapse, word was sent through an underling that he would not take questions until later in the week.

I see, impatient media members are now simply generous souls concerned only about the well being of the Gopher Football program. How sad these men and women were when they learned they'd need to wait 2 whole days to inquire about an inanimate construct. Nice choice of underling too Jim. That's what makes you a hack and Derek Wetmore just a guy who frames things in an unfortunate way.

Teague did drive Kill’s wife, Rebecca, to the hospital. He could have made the 10-minute drive back for a 10-minute news conference at any time, especially if, as the Gophers insisted, Kill was resting comfortably.

Kill is unable to fulfill his duties. Teague is unwilling to fulfill his.

So much here too. See the unspoken assertion that Kill must not be ok and the U is lying because if he was OK Teague could attend the presser. Note the certainty that Kill can't coach with epilepsy with nothing to back it up. See how Jim reads Norwood's mind and knows that he is stubbornly refusing to do his job. It's all quite impressive.

Teague, like Kill, seems likable enough. He’s affable, and generous with his time when the questions are easy.

Saturday, his football program, the most important piece of the athletic department, faced a leadership void. Kill was in the hospital. That left an assistant coach and some 19-year-olds to handle touchy questions.

Into this leadership void stepped … no one.

Teague may think he dampened coverage of Kill’s seizure by waiting to answer questions. He didn’t. All he did was damage his credibility as a leader.

No one stepped up! Except the coaching staff who finished out the game per a preset plan (a game the Gophers won by the way). Also, from the tone of things here I guess I now know that the Gopher Football program leadership void is a problem because of the nuclear launch codes. And there's that concern for the children again. Those fragile Gopher players who simply had to be asked the tough questions. I mean, the media had NO OTHER CHOICE! It was terrible and it pained them to do it, but the questions were so important that they asked people they knew couldn't answer them as fully as they'd like. I for one am glad to know our local sports media is willing to step up to the plate like that.

Now, that was the end of the column but not the end of Souhan being a piece of work. He answered his hate mail with a blog post. I'm going to guess that you won't be surprised when I tell you he didn't bother to apologize for comparing Kill's seizures to Big Ten wins.

-Yes, I understand that the University of Minnesota can't and shouldn't fire Jerry Kill because he has epileptic seizures. I do believe the administration should ask him to step aside, and believe Kill should do so.

"Yep, I know they'll get sued if they fire him. So instead I want them to publicly ask a coach to resign because of a medical condition. Because that is world's better."

-No, I don't believe it's OK for everyone to accept that Kill will not be able to coach frequently because of his seizures and that his assistants can handle his duties. The U didn't hire Kill's assistants for more than a millino dollars a year to handle his duties. They hired Jerry Kill with the assumption that he could handle the job.

You don't think it's ok? Wow Jim, I wasn't really sure about that until now. Also, where did you prove that Kill isn't doing his job? And shouldn't it be up to the people who are paying him to decide whether he's doing it? Cause that's how it usually works. Last time I checked, GopherNation isn't the one deciding if I'm doing it right in the software world.

-Yes, I am sympathetic to Kill. I expressed that in my column. But his is not the average job. He can't pretend to be the same as someone who works 9-5 in a cubicle. He is in the entertainment industry. He is the face of a program and by extension a University.

Pro tip: Saying that a coach isn't a good face of a program because he has seizures isn't showing sympathy. It's showing that you are an asshat with the empathy level of a 12 year old.

-No, I don't think I'm being cruel, I think many of you are being cruel. Kill has had four seizures on game days in 16 home games at Minnesota. The stress of the job seems to have a negative effect on him. You shouldn't want him to put himself in that position for your entertainment.

"I AM RUBBER YOU ARE GLUE!" Because remember, Jim is a doctor everyone. He has years of medical training and has examined Jerry Kill personally. He knows what treatments he is on and he knows that this job is killing him. And that's why all of you are monsters.

-No, my criticism of Kill has nothing to do with his coaching. I think he's a solid coach who has a chance to succeed here. But he's not doing the program or himself or his family any favors by risking his health.

"Remember all that stuff I said about Coach Kill not being able to do his job? I didn't mean any of it. I actually think he's a good coach who might succeed here. I just think seizures are scary for some people and it's embarrassing to have a coach who isn't in flawless health. That's why I think Coach Kill should step down."

-No, I don't write the headlines.

Nope. You just write the dreck underneath. Editors aren't magicians Jim. You hand them a steaming pile of horseshit and there's only so much they can do to polish it up.

In summary: Jim? You're a jackass. And just so we're clear, that's my medical position based on years of knowing people capable of various levels of jackassery. You're Stage 5 man. It's bad. Get help now.

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