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If you played sports as a kid, you may have unknowingly put yourself at risk. Every time you jumped for a rebound, dove for a volleyball or even slid into third base, you could have suffered a serious injury.
For many, those are routine actions a player performs in the heat of the moment. They are part of the game.
But for one New Jersey baseball coach, it turned into much more than that. A decision to tell a player to slide nearly ruined that coach’s life, according to Steve Politi of NJ Advance Media.
Yes, that happened. A New Jersey high school baseball coach was sued after one of his star players got injured sliding into third base. The coach — John Suk — instructed the player — Jake Mesar — to slide into the base on what Suk believed was going to be a “bang-bang play.”
Mesar, who was 15 at the time, heard a pop in his ankle. He needed multiple surgeries to correct the issue. The injury was much worse than you might expect, according to Politi.
Baseball was the least of his worries. Even after three surgeries, the ankle was not improving — one doctor even presented amputation as a possible outcome. A specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Robert Rozbruch, found post-traumatic arthritis and signs of necrosis — evidence the bone was dying.
Doctors were able to repair Mesar’s ankle, but it came at a cost. His baseball career was over. On top of that, Mesar could no longer do high-impact activities. He was even discouraged from jogging.
Mesar’s attorneys called Suk’s coaching experience and education into question. They painstakingly went over the play, questioning whether Suk gave Mesar enough time to slide and whether Suk was paying attention during the play.
Suk’s defense hovered around one thing: Sliding is a routine action in baseball. An injury like this can happen, but often doesn’t.
The jury wasn’t fully on board with Suk’s reasoning initially. Six of the eight jurors believed Suk was not at fault. The jury needed seven of eight members to agree to reach a verdict.
After some convincing, one member of the jury changed their vote. Suk was cleared. He was facing a seven-figure payment if the jury found Suk liable.
Had things not gone Suk’s way, he believes the verdict could have resulted in the end of high school sports.
“It’s the end of high school sports,” he says. “The coaching profession would be under heavy scrutiny for everything that happens. Coaches are going to have to have insurance like doctors have for malpractice. School districts are not going to want to take the risk of having sports.”
Suk’s description may sound extreme, but he’s not wrong. A routine action in a high school baseball game could have had major implications on the youth sports landscape.
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