Football program ponders increased player safety

by Brian Stensaas

But along with the energetic nightlife and presence of big name acts and professional teams comes the chance for violence.

It’s always been there. And according to Minneapolis Police Department statistics, in the first six months of 2002, homicides in the city had risen 17 percent compared to the same time period of 2001.

But never has it been so evident to a football team.

In the days since defensive tackle Brandon Hall was shot and killed near the intersection of 3rd Street and Hennepin Avenue, Mason has done plenty of thinking. And what keeps crossing his mind is how he could have prevented the tragedy from happening.

“I don’t know,” Mason said with a puzzled look to a room of reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I am not above taking advice from anybody. If it’s feasible I would do it.”

Mason has come up with only one solution: keep all players within his sight every minute of every day of the year. While he says he would be more than willing to do this, he knows it is not possible. The closest watch he keeps is before games, where even at home the entire team spends the night in a hotel and has an 11 p.m. curfew.

All he can do on top of the Friday hotel stays is preach about the unfortunate possibilities and tell his players to be careful. He did so Saturday night, like he does after every game.

“I tell the players there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pick up the newspaper and there is some athlete ñ high school, college or pro ñ who has ruined their life,” Mason said. “But this kid was a victim, which is different.”

Junior captain quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq pondered how this incident turned out so differently from events of the past.

“One of the most difficult things has been dealing with how many times we have all been out and maybe had an altercation or seen something and nothing (violent) has ever happened,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “How can a person 6-foot-4, 200 plus pounds with a heart like an angel be taken so senselessly? You think of how it could have been avoided.”

Players know of the dangers. They hear it from coaches, parents and even other players.

But along with the warnings comes an urgency to help a friend in need.

“When you come to play football here the coaches become your parents, the people you look up to,” junior tight end Ben Utecht said. “We’re always told to be careful and to set the standard and we all know that. But life throws things at you that you just don’t expect, like on Saturday. You don’t expect to get a call from a friend saying he was beat up or robbed. But if you do, it’s like your brother. And you go down there and help out. And then things escalate and you just don’t know how to handle it. We’re always looking out for each other. We try to stay out of situations like that.”