NJ.com posted an article recently about a seven-year legal case involving a junior varsity baseball coach.
The article explains:
John Suk sits with shoulders slouched and his head down at the defendant’s table in Courtroom 301, a stuffy wood-paneled space inside the Somerset County judicial complex. The 31-year-old middle school teacher scribbles in a notebook as his reputation is shredded.
The plaintiff’s attorneys in Civil Docket No. L-000629-15 have spent two full days portraying the co-defendant as an inattentive and unqualified lout. He is, they argue, a villain who destroyed the future of a teenager he was supposed to protect.
So what horrible crime is this man charged with?
The article continues:
“He must be held accountable for what he did,” one of the plaintiff’s two attorneys tells jurors during opening arguments.
The attacks intensify when Suk takes the witness stand to defend himself on a split-second decision he made seven years earlier. He is accused of taking a reckless course of action that showed a callous disregard for another person’s safety.
He sounds like an awful person. Then you remember what Suk did to end up here.
He instructed a player he was coaching during a junior varsity baseball game to slide.
Not into an active volcano.
Not into a shark tank.
Into third base.
This is the crux of the story:
The visiting team was leading, 6-0, in the top of the second inning when Mesar, batting for the second time, laced a line drive over the left fielder’s head.
Two runs scored. Mesar rounded second and headed for third. And next, a sickening sound echoed across the diamond as he hit the ground.
As Mesar wailed in agony, Suk (pronounced SOOK) rushed to his side. So did the player’s father, Rob Mesar, who was keeping the scorebook in the dugout. An ambulance arrived. No one knew it then, but that promising freshman — two innings into his high school career — would never play another baseball game.
“I felt bad for my parents,” Jake Mesar, now 22 and attending Rutgers, testifies on the second day of the trial. “They would never be able to see me play.”
Baseball was the least of his worries. Even after three surgeries, the ankle was not improving — one doctor even presented amputation as a possible outcome. A specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Robert Rozbruch, found post-traumatic arthritis and signs of necrosis — evidence the bone was dying.
Mesar needed two more surgeries, including one to inject stem cells into the ankle tissue, and he was fit with an external fixator, a stabilizing frame to keep the bones properly positioned. The injury improved, but Rozbruch told the once-active teenager to avoid high-impact activities. Even jogging.
When it comes time for Rozbruch to testify, he abandons the clinical language of his profession and makes it clear that Mesar’s baseball dreams died on third base that day.
“He will never recover fully,” the doctor says.
It is more than a physical injury. Mesar has endured frequent bouts of depression and a pair of panic attacks, including one that sent him from a family party on Christmas Eve to the emergency room. The injury is, as his lawyer tells the jury, “something he has to live with every minute, every hour, every day of his life.”
All of this, to use a decidedly non-legal word, sucks. How can anyone sit here, listen to his story and not have your heart break?
Still, injuries happen. That is at the cold reality of sports. Did the coach sitting with his head down at the defense table really ruin this kid’s life?
The coach won the case, but the article asks an interesting question at the end:
I ask him (John Suk) to consider the other scenario: What would have happened if he lost?
“It’s the end of high school sports,” he says. “The coaching profession would be under heavy scrutiny for everything that happens. Coaches are going to have to have insurance like doctors have for malpractice. School districts are not going to want to take the risk of having sports.”
He takes a long pull from his bottle of water.
The clouds that had covered the sky for most of the day are clearing, giving hope that North Brunswick’s summer team might not lose another day off the calendar to bad weather.
The case is closed. The weight is lifted. He checks his watch, shakes my hand, then heads off to find his car. He has to hurry.
He has a baseball game to coach.
People get injured in sports. Coaches do what they can to prevent injuries, but injuries happen. This lawsuit should have been dropped the moment it showed up in court.