Sep 18, 2013, 4:53 PM EDT
Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy has Parkinson’s.
This has been public knowledge for almost two years now. I know this, you know this, the kids that Kennedy is recruiting know this and you damn well better believe that the coaches he is recruiting against know this.
Coaching at the collegiate level is a demanding, volatile industry, one that could result in a promotion that triples your salary just as quickly as it can leave you out of a job. The most important part of the job, especially at the highest level of the sport, is recruiting, so it should come as no surprise that coaches competing for a recruit can get cutthroat.
As Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com wrote yesterday, Texas A&M’s newest commit, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Texas named Alex Robinson, had to listen to coaches that were recruiting him use Kennedy’s diagnosis as a recruiting tool.
“They actually did [use Kennedy's Parkinson's diagnosis against Texas A&M],” Robinson told Parrish. “But I just kinda brushed it off like, ‘Hey, that’s part of recruiting. [The other coaches are just] trying to get me to their school.’”
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s is a life-changing event, quite literally. Kennedy has no control over his disease. There is no known cure and there is no known cause. Kennedy got dealt a crappy hand, and now he has to live the rest of his life knowing that he has a degenerative neurological disease that is only going to get worse. Making matters worse is that there is no time frame at play. In a worst case scenario, Kennedy could lose his ability to walk by the time Robinson graduates. Some Parkinson’s patients are bedridden within 10 years. But on the flip-side, Michael J. Fox was diagnosed 22 years ago and is starring in a sitcom right now.
That’s a heavy dose of perspective to dump on a guy that has a wife, four kids, and a high-profile job.
As you can imagine, Kennedy is none-too-pleased when he hears about opposing coaches using his disease against him on the recruiting trail.
“It angers me when people tell recruits I may not coach much longer because it’s coming from people who don’t really know me,” Kennedy told Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports. “I’m in the best health I’ve ever been in my whole life. I don’t really have any symptoms right now to be honest with you. Nobody would even know my situation if they saw me.”
“I learned a long time ago all is fair in love, war and recruiting, so I’m not surprised people would bring up something about my health. There are some insecure assistants in high-profile programs that do whatever they have to do to get a player. But that’s not the norm. I don’t think most people are that way.”
Parrish called the negative recruiting “deplorable”. Eisenberg called it “shameful”. Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com called it “disgusting”. Frank Martin, South Carolina’s head coach, simply said it was “sad” and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted “no honor amongst thieves”.
And for the most part, they’re right.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Kennedy’s diagnosis has to be something that every recruit and their family take into account.
The bottom line is that Alex Robinson and Tony Trocha and any other recruit that decides to play his college basketball for Texas A&M is doing so because they believe that Kennedy will help them grow as a basketball player and as a person while winning games and going to NCAA tournaments in the process. And while all of us — myself included — want to see Kennedy remain healthy for a long, long time, there’s a chance that doesn’t happen. It’s a risk that player is taking, one that he should be talking over with his family and his coaches.
It should factor into his decision.
And if an opposing coach wants to make a kid he is recruiting aware of Kennedy’s disease, I don’t see a problem with that. Telling the recruit to make sure he does his homework on prognosis for Parkinson’s patients and to have that conversation with Kennedy is OK, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.
Recruits are being told that Kennedy’s career will be over soon, that he may never coach them in college. Some are even telling kids that they could catch Parkinson’s from Kennedy, which is most assuredly not true.
That is unacceptable.
Honest and open conversation about Kennedy’s health is a good thing, regardless of where it is coming from. Slander and lying about the severity of his condition is the kind of negative recruiting that gives everyone in the business a bad name.
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