The Most Telling Concussion in Cal Football Occurred Off the Field

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November 25, 2013

by Irvin Muchnick


I am holding off until later a piece on the miserable state of the University of California athletic department. The topic falls under the category of kicking people when they’re down, and I prefer the longer-limbed perspective of why no one poked the Golden Bears when they were up.

Forgotten in the furor over Cal football’s appalling failure to graduate players under coach Jeff Tedford (now exposed as the very worst academic record of any major program) is that Tedford was fired last year because of the declining performance of his team on the field, not in the classroom. But funny how these things go together, good and bad, when commentators are piling on. Back in the days when Tedford was leading Cal to bowl games, the narrative spread by the California pack media was that he was also spearheading a wildly successful support system he dubbed the “Academic GamePlan.” In my later article, I’ll be reviewing this past propaganda for what it was.

Meanwhile, with the merciful conclusion of the Big Game against Stanford — soon to be followed by the Big Splash (swimming), the Big Swish (basketball), and the big scrum over the latest military-industrial complex contract — the boys from Berkeley finish a record-low 1-11 under first-year coach Sonny Dykes. This marks two more losses than there used to be games on the entire Golden Bears’ football schedule back around the time I was (intermittently) attending college classes.

But what I want to know immediately is this: What can we all learn about the “corporate culture” of college football from the story of Fabiano Hale?

Fabiano who?

Hale is an 18-year-old freshman running back from Santa Cruz. On November 1, Hale landed in Alta Bates Medical Center with a concussion. Now, just because that was a Friday doesn’t mean, in this day and age, that there wasn’t a Cal game that day. But in this case, lo and behold, there wasn’t. Hale was injured in a locker room fight before or after practice; or before or after Memorial Stadium training room treatment for injuries; but almost certainly not before or after a study hall session.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s John Crumpacker reported that “the player who instigated [the altercation]” with Hale was suspended indefinitely. He is required to attend counseling and perform 25 hours of community service in order to be considered for reinstatement.

Curiously, the Chronicle hasn’t named the alleged instigator — reporting only that the university didn’t release his name. But I doubt that the athletic flacks at Haas Pavilion or the university flacks at Sproul Hall “released” the name of Fabiano Hale, either. Both names, however, are in police reports and the campus gossip chain — standard information avenues in our business.

Nor does another possible explanation wash for the Chronicle’s discretion in not naming the assailant: because he hasn’t been charged by the Alameda County district attorney. Especially since the paper had no trouble naming the alleged victim (or if you prefer — and if this was a case of contributory blame — the participant in the “altercation” who came off second-best).

As a thought experiment, try to imagine President Obama socking the queen of England in the jaw, sending her to the emergency room of Bethesda Medical Center. Then wrap your mind around a journalistic call not to write about the party of the second part on the grounds that the capitol police were still sorting it all out.

(Chronicle Cal beat writer Crumpacker and sports editor Al Saracevic declined comment for this article.)

Of course, cryptic coverage of college athletics malfeasance is the way of our media. That’s because football is either not important enough or too important, I forget which.

After the 63-13 loss to Stanford, Crumpacker gave us the central casting curmudgeonly sportswriter’s exit interview with Coach Dykes. Crumpacker, transcribing Dykes, places the blame squarely where it belongs: with the 18-to-22-year-olds playing football for free in return for the marvelous privilege of attending college on year-to-year contracts without a net. Not, let’s be clear, with the adults who lured them to Cal and proceeded to rattle a stick across the bars of their cages.

Dykes: “We’re going to recruit better. We’re going to recruit kids that deserve to be at Cal and want to be at Cal. We’re going to learn how to go to class. We’re going to fix our graduation rates; we’re going to graduate. We are going to appreciate being a Cal student, be supportive of other Cal students.”

It’s no sure thing, Crumpacker concluded, that all the non-graduating players “will return in 2014 — or that the coaches will want them to.”

One of these possible unwelcomes, Crumpacker made clear in another story, is backup quarterback Zach Kline. Not because he didn’t do well in class. No, it’s because Kline played poorly in relief of starting QB Jared Goff.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick