It is impossible to be a sports fan and not be horrified from time to time. Sometimes that horror is the product of a close-up shot of Oakland Raiders fans, but every now and then it comes from seeing an athlete take a hit in the head or neck and watching as that athlete goes limp, watching him be carefully attended to by concerned doctors, watching him carted off on a stretcher. Such moments shock us out of the euphoria of a game. They remind us of our corporeal limits. They make our stomachs churn.
Butler guard Rotnei Clarke was the victim of one such incident in the first half of Butler's 79-73 win at Dayton. Clarke was fouled by the Flyers' Matt Derenbecker on a fast break when he careened head-first into the padded basket stanchion. He fell to the floor and remained there for eight minutes, before he was taken off on a stretcher and moved to nearby Miami Valley Hospital. It was the kind of freaky injury aftermath that looks not only like the end of a season or a career, but the end of a player's way of life. Clarke could easily have been paralyzed.
Instead, Clarke survived. Butler trainer Ryan Gallow told the Indy Star's David Woods that Clarke's spinal cord and cervical discs were fine, and that the injury was a "significant neck sprain." That could cause Clarke to miss a few games, maybe more. But considering the possibility, it was a pretty positive outcome.
The question is how quickly Clarke can be cleared for contact and return to the Bulldogs' lineup. Currently, there is no timetable for that return. Coach Brad Stevens told Woods that Clarke would not play until "he's 100 percent ready and cleared." But Clarke's father, Conley Clarke, had a different diagnosis Sunday:
“If they’re thinking about not letting him play Saturday,” the father said, “they’re going to have to take him to another county.”
He's referring, of course, to Butler's game against the No. 8-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, a matchup of the two marquee mid-major programs of the last decade and the first time ESPN's "College GameDay" show will come to you live from glorious Hinkle Fieldhouse. In December, after Butler toppled then-No. 1 Indiana, Clarke told me that's why he came to Butler -- to play in and win big games, to be a part of the major moments this program has specialized in since Stevens took over in 2007. Saturday is about as big of a regular-season game as Butler has. If Clarke isn't cleared to play, I'm guessing it's best everyone listens to his dad.