CRAWFORD | Marine's NCAA quest a reminder of veterans' obstacles - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Marine's quest to play football a reminder of veterans' obstacles

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Daily News Journal photo submitted by Steven Rhodes. Daily News Journal photo submitted by Steven Rhodes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Rarely does anyone gather such widespread and unanimous support against anything as Steven Rhodes has garnered against the NCAA.

Rhodes, 24, is a Marine Corps veteran who wants to play football at Middle Tennessee State University, but the NCAA has twice ruled that he must sit out this season because he played games in a military-only recreational league.

He's never played a down of college football, and MTSU coaches say he'd make the field as a walk-on this season, but because he played in the equivalent of intramural games, against other military members, for fun, he is being sidelined.

Under NCAA rules, those games constitute "organized competition," because the games utilized officials, featured uniforms and they kept score. As it stands now, Rhodes will have to sit this season.

Chances are, Rhodes will win his appeal. The school already appealed the NCAA rule that would've cost him two years of eligibility because he played in the games. It's now focusing its efforts on getting the NCAA to relent on the redshirt year.

This morning, the NCAA said, "The NCAA has provided an initial review of the case and will continue to work with the university. The process is ongoing and a final decision has not yet been made."

When The Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn., published Rhodes' story on Sunday, Twitter blew up with indignation.

CBS' Bruce Feldman called it, "NCAA Lunacy, Part 72231." ESPN's Jay Bilas asked, "Is this the 'threat to integrity' the NCAA is worried about?"

Dick Vitale said, "NCAA action is absurd - use common sense."

Not even the NCAA could botch this any more. Or could it? For the rest of the world, it's a no-brainer. If a guy serves his country for five years, he should not come home to find obstacles placed in his way to college, or anything else.

But sadly, that's not just an NCAA problem. For veterans, there are obstacles everywhere, from receiving benefits to even obtaining the medical care that the nation owes them. Bureaucracy and injustice abound.

And in some cases, the stakes are much higher than a football season.

This past June, Daniel Somers, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, killed himself. But he left a note, which shed some light on the  demons facing many veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can read it here. 

"I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now," he wrote to his family. "Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time."

The Veterans Administration estimates that in 2010, 22 veterans per day took their own lives.

Sean Cassedy, a 31-year old hero of three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in the parking lot of the Veteran's Hospital in Louisville this past May.

Not only should the obstacles to Steven Rhodes playing football be removed immediately, with apologies, from the NCAA, but there are a great many other obstacles veterans face that ought not to be in their way. The stakes are far higher than NCAA eligibility. On top of their wounds from service, and the scars, mental and physical they carry, they should not have to deal with the frustration of jumping through hoops to receive proper care and support at home. Veterans' hospitals need more resources to deal with the issues that face these men and women, and the process for receiving care should be streamlined.

Perhaps Rhodes' predicament can serve as a reminder of what we owe these men and women who return from service.

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