The leg injury suffered by Louisville's Kevin Ware this weekend was so devastating that some people automatically wondered if he would ever play basketball or even walk normally again. The short answer, after he left an Indianapolis hospital Tuesday to join the Cardinals at the Final Four in Atlanta this weekend, is yes—but not for a while, and the fallout could have been worse for another student-athlete.
As for who takes care of that recovery, things get a little trickier. Louisville's insurance should cover his medical bills, but they aren't required to do it. Technically, there's nothing preventing Louisville from cutting Ware from the team right now, taking away his scholarship, and sending him packing. NCAA rules don't mandate that scholarships be guaranteed or that athletes get all their medical bills paid for. It's up to each school decide how much coverage they will offer or if they want to continue to offer it all.
Legally, student-athletes are not employees and get none of the usual workplace protections. Ware can't make a workman's compensation claim for being injured on the job and he can't sue the school to pay for his medical bills. Plus, even if he graduates without any debt, any lingering medical issues would be his problem, not the NCAA's. There are plenty of athletes who found themselves on the hook for hefty deductibles, uncovered services, and chronic health problems that follow them after college.
Fortunately for Ware, Louisville is the most profitable basketball school in the country and can afford to pay up. That and basic human decency are his only real protections right now. We can't imagine the storm that would come down on a school should they someday decide to cut a kid loose after any entire emotional public watched in horror as he injured himself on live TV.
I can't even get myself together. I don't even wanna watch the rest of this game. His life just change— Michael Bush (@michaelbush29) March 31, 2013
As for Ware's future as a basketball player, there's no reason the broken leg should stop him from returning to form once it's healed. Two recent injuries that have been compared to his are those of Michael Bush, a running back who shattered his leg (while playing football for Louisville, oddly enough), and wide receiver Patrick Edwards, whose leg was nearly severed by a utility cart in 2008 while playing at Houston. Both men recovered and made it to the NFL, though the injury did set them back a bit and probably hurt their draft standing. Washington quarterback Joe Theismann never played again after having his leg shattered on national TV, but he was much older at the time of his injury and came from an era with significant disadvantage in medical technology. (Theisman said in several interviews Tuesday that he, too remained optimistic about recovery.)
Ware was always a marginal NBA prospect—he doesn't start for the Cardinals—and would have been a long-shot even without the leg problem. If anything, the injury might boost his chances of catching on with the NBA's Developmental League or some team in Europe, since at the very least he a more recognizable name now. Sympathy alone might be enough for someone to throw a professional contract his way in a couple years.
Bush was right that Ware's life has been changed forever. Thankfully, that doesn't have to mean that it's damaged forever.