Cancer Puts Sports Into Perspective

May 15, 2009 | Tom Clayton

Every single day in the United States 1,500 people die from cancer while another 3,400 are diagnosed with the terrible disease.  In the last two days we have had one of each in the sports community.


Early Friday morning Wayman Tisdale died in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital after a three year battle with bone cancer. 


On the court Tisdale was one of the most dominant players in the history of Big12 basketball.  During his career at Oklahoma, Tisdale was a three time All American; becoming the first player in NCAA history to be named an All American during his freshman season.  Earlier this year Tisdale was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame for his dominant play as a Sooner.  In 1984 Tisdale won an Olympic gold medal when he played he played on the U.S. basketball team coached by Bobby Knight. 


The Indiana Pacers made Tisdale the second overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.  During his twelve year NBA career Tisdale averaged 15 points and six rebounds before retiring in 1997.


After his basketball career had ended Tisdale become world renowned as one of the greatest bass guitar players in the world.  Tisdale recorded eight jazz albums and earned the Legacy Tribute Award by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.


While his many accomplishments in the world of basketball and music were impressive, his courage in the face of cancer was far more inspirational.  In March of 2006 while getting his wife a glass of water Tisdale fell down the steps of his Los Angeles home and broke his leg.  While doctors performed surgery to repair the broken bone it was discovered Tisdale’s bones had been weakened by cancer.  Tisdale under went two unsuccessful rounds of chemotherapy, Tisdale later recalled “The doctor had never given anyone chemo that was my size. They just calculated how much chemo to give me and said, ‘We hope it doesn’t mess up your kidneys. If it does, sorry.”


After the unsuccessful chemotherapy treatments doctors decide the best course of action was to amputate the leg just above the knee.  After the amputation of the leg doctors and Tisdale were confident that he would recover 100% and be cancer free. Unfortunately early this morning Tisdale passed away from cancer at the age of 44.  Tisdale is survived by his wife Regina and their four children.


While we lost a member of our sports family today due to cancer, yesterday Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich announced he was diagnosed with the horrible disease.


Last year during his junior season at Boston College Herzlich was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named First Team All American by and    During his great junior season Herzlich had a team high 110 tackles and had six interceptions, two of which he took to the house.


If Herzlich had decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2009 NFL Draft he would have been a surefire top twenty pick and one of the first three linebackers taken.  For the 2010 Draft many experts had Herzlich as their top linebacking prospect and a potential top 10 pick.


Now instead of getting ready for his senior season at B.C. Herzlich will be in a battle much larger than any he has faced on the gridiron.  After feeling pain in his leg Herzlich went to a doctor where he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a malignant tumor that is most often found in bone or soft tissue.


In a statement Thursday Herzlich stated:

“This past week, I got some news nobody wants to hear. After undergoing some tests to determine the cause of some pain I had been experiencing in my leg, I learned that I have Ewing‘s Sarcoma.

“Obviously, I was shocked. I had been extremely focused on preparing for my senior season at Boston College and for life beyond that. Now, I must channel all that energy into facing my toughest opponent yet, and that is exactly what I will do.”

“At this point, I do not know what this means for my football future, but I am determined to rid my body of this disease so that I can put that uniform back on. Thank you in advance for your prayers and concern. Together, we will fight this and win.”


My best wishes go out to Mark and the entire Herzlich family.  Currently Mark has returned home to Pennsylvania to be with his family and to undergo a series of tests to determine the best course of treatment.


While many fans treat sports as if they are life and death it is news like this that really puts things in perspective.  Cancer is a disease that unlike sports it has no halftime, no time outs, and doesn’t care what jersey you are wearing.