Football is generally regarded as the most dangerous of the American sports leagues, and for good reason. The dangers of concussion are now well understood, and the league is taking a more proactive stance to player safety. Nonetheless, concussions still occur at an alarming rate of 0.41 per game, according to Vox, raising questions about whether football can ever be considered a safe sport.
Unfortunately, concussions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to serious football injuries, as former college player Eric LeGrand can attest. LeGrand became paralyzed while making a tackle back in 2010. Here we take a look back at LeGrand’s tragic and life-changing injury, and how he’s still using it to inspire people 10 years later.
Eric LeGrand’s horrific injury
LeGrand attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he played defensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights. He possessed a unique blend of speed and strength, capable of fulfilling defensive lineman duties while also covering kickoff returns. LeGrand’s injury occurred in October 2010, during his third year at Rutgers, in a game against Army.
On the possession in question, LeGrand was defending a kickoff to Army. As he went in for a tackle against the opposing ball carrier, LeGrand accidently lowered his head. His head caromed off the ball carrier’s should with incredible force, sending LeGrand to the ground. He lay there for several minutes before being carried off the field.
As he was being taken away, LeGrand tried to give the worried home crowd a thumbs up, but was unable to complete the gesture. As he later described it to Sports Illustrated, it felt like he was being held down by a “thousand pounds.” LeGrand was rushed to the hospital and placed on a respirator.
The scope of the injury unveiled
Doctors soon determined that the force of Eric LeGrand’s tackle had resulted in a fracture to his C3 and C4 cervical vertebrae. The initial prognosis was incredibly grim.
Not only was LeGrand paralyzed from the neck down, but doctors also warned his mother that he would probably need a respirator to help him breathe for the rest of his life.
Likewise, the doctors warned that, at best, LeGrand had only a five percent chance of ever walking again. Yet LeGrand had one thing working on his side that the doctors couldn’t have predicted: his incredible will to live.
Within a month, LeGrand had managed to wean himself off the respirator for an hour and a half at a time. By the following January, he no longer needed the machine at all. Soon LeGrand had also regained partial movement in his shoulders, and the ability to register sensations throughout his body.
Eric LeGrand’s dedication to inspiring others
10 years after his tragic accident, LeGrand remains almost completely paralyzed. He depends on an electric wheelchair and other assistive devices to accomplish the kinds of daily tasks that most people take for granted. Yet whereas many people would have found their spirits defeated by such brutal circumstances, LeGrand continues to find meaning in life by bringing inspiration to others.
In 2016-17, LeGrand hosted a six episode web series titled Mission Possible with Eric LeGrand, which highlighted the accomplishments of people faced with adversity. He’s also made regular motivational speaking appearances. For instance, in 2019 he went to Fieldstone Middle School in Montvale, NJ, to pass his message of hope, positivity, and perseverance on to the students, according to NorthJersey.com.
LeGrand also hosts a yearly “Walk to Believe” event through the Christopher Reeve Foundation. When the Coronavirus forced him to cancel the 2020 walk, he took the event online instead. LeGrand also penned a heartfelt essay, published on The Players’ Tribune, in which he detailed the impact the Coronavirus pandemic was having on him as an at-risk individual. At this point, it’s safe to say that LeGrand is determined to persevere no matter what circumstances life throws his way.