Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Thoughts After Watching”The Life of Donnovan Hill”

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As most of you who read my blog know, I am a regular watcher of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program (henceforth shortened to OTL). Recently, OTL featured a story about a young man, Donnovan Hill, who’d become paralyzed as a result of being incorrectly taught how to tackle by a Pop Warner football coach. Donnovan Hill went from an active, athletic, and energetic young teen to a quadriplegic, and no one took responsibility.

Granted, some might see what happened to Donnovan Hill as “an act of God.” Many others on his team were also taught this inaccurate technique, and they did not become injured (much less paralyzed for life).

But what I saw–and what I internalized–was a young man who’d loved to play football, and had been bright, gifted, and doing everything he wanted to do.

Then, one day, it was all gone.

His friends mostly melted away, being unable to conceive of Donnovan’s life as a paraplegic (much less deal with it). His coaches tried to help, at least until they realized Donnovan’s mother was going to sue them; then, they also faded away.

So it was just Donnovan and his mother, living a life without any sort of help for either. Donnovan could not brush his teeth, and had to work very hard to regain enough feeling in one hand so he could put on his own pair of glasses. While his mother had to do everything for him — feed him, get him to the toilet, brush his teeth, carry him to and from the car (as they didn’t have a motorized wheelchair or handicapped accessible van, this was a huge problem for both).

It was obvious that both were heartsick, exhausted, and extremely unhappy with what had become of Donnovan’s life. But there were compensations.

First, the bond between Donnovan and his mother was extremely close. The love was palpable in the story between them, even though no words were spoken.

Second, Donnovan turned to poetry and music to express his inner thoughts and feelings. And he had a gift…one that, had he lived longer, might’ve brought him fame of another sort…the sort a young man wants to have, that of accomplishment against the odds.

Third, after the original OTL story aired, many people stepped forward with offers of help. Two handicap-accessible vans were donated. A better, disabled-friendly apartment was offered. A motorized wheelchair was given to Donnovan…so life got better for them both, due to them being willing to discuss publicly what had happened to him after getting hurt so badly.

And finally, former Pro Bowl OT Kyle Turley reached out to Donnovan as well. The two became friends, and that friendship had worth and value.

Donnovan Hill died at age 18, just after his mother had settled the lawsuit with the Pop Warner organization. Kyle Turley sang a song he and Donnovan had written together, using one of Donnovan’s poems…the church was full, and at least one of Donnovan’s former coaches did attend the service.

So, after watching “The Life of Donnovan Hill,” I am left with a deep and overarching sadness. This was a young man with great potential and a gift for poetry that was truly inspirational. I wish he’d lived longer…but the fact he lived, and kept trying so hard after being paralyzed in a Pop Warner football game, was meaningful.

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