On This Day In History

August 12, 1978: Rising NFL Star Paralyzed by Hit

On this day in 1978, the Oakland Raiders played against the New England Patriots in a pre-season game. Oakland Raiders free safety Jack Tatum hit New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley helmet-to-helmet. As a result, Stingley was paralyzed for life. He was just 26 years old. Despite the sport’s hard hits and reputation for roughness, this was the first and only time a player was permanently paralyzed as a result of an injury sustained in a National Football League game. At this time, the hit did not violate any NFL rules and no flag was thrown. However, Stingley’s neck was broken and he became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. Stingley died on April 5, 2007 at the age of 51. He and Tatum never reconciled.

Helmet to helmet contact is now illegal in the NFL. Some people say that football is a hard sport and that a player will do the job they are paid to do. Others say that helmet to helmet contact should be illegal in the NFL and that a player can still do their job without the danger of injuring them self or other players.

Stingley, a wide receiver out of Purdue, was chosen by the Patriots in the first round of the 1973 draft.  In 1977, he had enjoyed the best year of his career, racking up 39 catches for 657 yards and five touchdowns. Tatum, played college football at Ohio State and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 1971 draft. He was known for hard hits and had previously injured other NFL players.  Raiders head coach John Madden visited Stingley in the hospital. Tatum tried to visit Stingley but his family did not allow him as they were angry at Tatum. They felt he lacked remorse for what he did to Stingley.

Discussion: What do you think about helmet to helmet contact in football? Should it be illegal? Does it make the game more dangerous? Should Tatum have felt sorry for what he did or was he just “doing his job”?

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