Untimely death raises serious questions

BY Jamie Trecker • April 14, 2012

The names add up to a grim cadence; Fabrice Muamba, Antonio Cassano, Eric Abidal, and Stiliyan Petrov. And now, this weekend, we have Piermario Morosini.

This year, the soccer world’s resolve has been seriously tested. Four players have been struck by serious illness. Morosini, just 25-years-old, died after collapsing on the field of play in Pescara Saturday afternoon. It is said the worst of times brings out the best in the world of soccer, but it’s difficult to keep thinking of soccer as the beautiful game in the face of such real tragedies.

It’s hard to remember another year quite like this, when each week seems to be punctuated with another reminder of our fragility. These are all things that shouldn’t happen to young men — certainly not the fittest and healthiest. But sadly, it does.

Morosini collapsed in the 31st minute of the game, just outside the penalty area. Reports from Italy say he received cardiac massage on the field immediately after his collapse, but that he endured a possibly fatal delay in getting to a hospital when a traffic police automobile was left blocking the stadium entrance. That prevented the ambulance from reaching Morosini quickly, and he subsequently died en route.

There have been immediate recriminations. An investigation has already been announced about the delay in getting Morosini to a hospital, and whether or not the proper equipment was available for his treatment on the field.

Morosini’s death will remind fans of Marc-Vivien Foe, the Cameroonian athlete whose collapse and death at the Confederations Cup, woke up a sport that had long ignored the possibility of cardiac problems. Cardiac problems among athletes are far more common than we expect, and soccer leagues had rarely screened for them. Though teams have been screening for cardiac issues since Foe’s passing, there’s still a real debate over how thoroughly players are being tested and examined on a regular basis.

That debate was thrown back open earlier this season, with an incident that remains one of the year’s most searing. Muamba’s close-class in Bolton’s FA Cup quarterfinal against Tottenham haunts recent memory. Unfolding in real-time, in front of a world-wide TV audience and spilling across social media, few can forget the true horror of the incident.

Cynics have argued that some of the response to Muamba’s plight was purely voyeuristic. One major columnist even sneered that if this tragedy was what it took to bring out the best of football, then the sport was pretty low to begin with. That’s an easy insult in a season with two high-profile cases of racist abuse among other pathetic, ugly behavior on and off the field. Though understandable, the crack on the sport is also wrong.

Those who witnessed the game, saw the true shock and concern across the stadium. They saw in the days that followed how fans from all stripes showed up to pay tribute to the young emigrant from Zaire. They created banners, they hosted vigils. They saw how players from other teams, other leagues and other countries responded. And they witnessed how people who have no connection to the game at all, responded with grace and compassion.

Fortunately, Muamba’s life was saved by a series of brave decisions, and reinforced by that overwhelming display of support. His fiancée rightly had the last word on the subject, saying that the prayers — one tweet at a time — were helping the young footballer recover.

Morosini didn’t seem to get the same quick attention, and that is a true tragedy. He is being fondly remembered tonight, but that is cold comfort to his friends and family. Damiano Tommasi, president of the Italian Players’ Association, said comments and blame are inappropriate at this time. But Tommasi also noted that this is a sport where professionals are supposed to have guarantees of protection.

It is clear that screening methods must be reviewed, and precautions taken at all times to avoid potentially deadly wayward stadium blockades. Though the game may only be an accumulation of points, the tears and prayers of fans are authentic. Soccer is a world stage which plays out many aspects of human toil, the good and the bad.

Soccer lost a good man today. All of us at FOX Soccer send our condolences to Morosini’s family and teammates.

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