By Ken Reed
Having been involved in sports for five decades, I’ve seen some great inspirational stories, both on and off the playing fields and courts.
There have been some fabulous comeback stories, in which athletes were thought to have had their careers cut short due to injuries suffered while playing only to come back and reach elite levels again.
In addition, there have been tremendous stories of athletes overcoming significant personal hardships in order to resume their playing careers.
That said, I have never come across a more inspiring story than the one about the University of Minnesota Gopher’s Casey O’Brien. O’Brien is a four-time cancer survivor, who was originally diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at age 13. He has since had a left knee replacement, multiple lung operations and too many chemotherapy treatments to count.
A former high school quarterback, O’Brien decided to focus on becoming a placeholder so he might fulfill his dream of playing major college football. To much applause, he made his college debut in a Gophers game earlier this season.
Unfortunately, O’Brien found out last week that he would need another surgery for a spot found on his lung. The bad news came a couple days before Minnesota’s big rivalry game with Wisconsin. Nevertheless, O’Brien’s attitude remains amazingly upbeat. He actually snuck out of the hospital following his surgery to be at Minnesota’s stadium with his teammates for the Wisconsin game.
“I wanted this team and this state to see me and see I’m OK and that I’m going to be just fine,” O’Brien said during a midgame interview with ESPN.
HIs teammates love him and are providing loads of support as he faces his latest medical challenge. It’s a great example of sport at its best.
“There is zero doubt in his voice — extremely positive,” said Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan.
“I love that kid … and I know he’s going to battle through this and be OK. He knows he’s got 120 brothers in maroon and gold that are fighting for him every single day. I talked to him a lot since then. Just his attitude and his mentality is insane.”
I strongly encourage you to watch this ESPN Game Day report about O’Brien: It was taped before O’Brien’s latest setback but it will give you a feel for the type of character this young man has.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is famous for his “Row the Boat,” never-give-up, mantra. Casey O’Brien is the ultimate example of that philosophy.
Before the Wisconsin game, Gopher fans unfurled a banner that read, “We row with Casey.”
I think anyone who knows this kid’s story, and his positive attitude, will be doing the same.
Keep rowing Casey. Keep rowing. We’re all rowing with you.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon