Mailbag: Metro Conference counterfactual, Kenny McKinley, and the evolution of the Block-C logo
Plus, a message from beyond the digital grave from The Feathered Warrior.
Last week, I put out a call for mailbag questions. Today, we answer them.says:
I would love more on what exactly happened to Kenny McKinley, I always felt like there must be so much more to that story.
In December 2010, the Associated Press got its hands on the Arapahoe County Sheriff Department’s investigation into McKinley’s death. Obviously, we’ll never have complete access to what was happening inside Kenny’s head, but the facts they were able to put together certainly told a story:
McKinley committed suicide with a gun he had purchased months before from teammate Jabar Gaffney, who told investigators McKinley wanted the weapon for his own protection … Detectives also determined that McKinley … had spoken about suicide with at least three of his friends, including former Broncos backup quarterback Tom Brandstater. Brandstater told investigators he had lent McKinley $65,000 and that McKinley owed $40,000 in casino markers in Las Vegas …
McKinley, 23, suffered a season-ending left knee injury during the first week of Broncos training camp. He underwent an operation several weeks before he shot himself in the left temple at his rental home near the Broncos' practice facility. McKinley had injured the same knee in the Broncos' next-to-last game in 2009.
The 131-page report, which states the investigation has closed, quoted witnesses as saying McKinley was depressed over his second knee surgery in eight months and was worried about how he would care for his toddler son when his football career was over.
I’ve found it strange that the string of suicide attempts by ex-Gamecock football players — McKinley, O.J. Murdock, and Kenny Miles, all from 2010 to 2013 — never sparked an inquisition into player wellbeing at USC. The coverage of those incidents tended to treat them more as one-off tragedies than a public health crisis within the South Carolina football program.
It’s also strange that the suicide of a Washington State player brought more attention to the issue of athlete mental health than either of those three Gamecocks did. Why did Tyler Hilinski’s death call so much more attention to the issue in USC circles than the suicide attempts of three former USC players? I have a few theories, including this one: it’s much easier to be concerned about an issue when that concern points outward — toward events that happened on the other side of the continent — than it is when that concern points inward.
Another thing that jumps out from the report on McKinley’s death is the role his gambling debt played.
The sheriff's report quotes McKinley's father, Kenneth McKinley, as saying that he and his wife were getting many letters for their son at their home in Mableton, Ga., from casinos in Las Vegas. He said bill collectors also were calling his house asking for his son and that he had spoken with his son about managing his money better …
Brandstater told investigators that McKinley had a "major gambling problem" and that he told him that he owed $40,000 in Las Vegas. He said the two of them had dinner for 10 straight nights in May trying to "hash out ways to fix it."
For most of my life, I’ve favored the liberalization of gambling laws, but seeing what legalized sports gambling actually looks like has changed my mind. In addition to reading about the immiseration that sports gambling has caused in the UK, online sports betting is legal now in my current state of Ohio, and I have found some of the predatory marketing practices nothing short of appalling.
And that’s to say nothing of how gambling has led to an increase in college players receiving online abuse, which can obviously have negative consequences for mental health.
By most accounts, sports betting has a long road to legalization in South Carolina, and Kenny McKinley’s death is one of many cautionary tales I hope SC lawmakers keep in mind when the avalanche of gambling lobby cash arrives in the Palmetto State.
(There is already some gambling lobby money making it into the coffers of SC legislators but nothing quite yet on the scale that we’ve seen in other states. A topic for another day, perhaps.)says:
I always have a what if? about the Metro and had it tried to move into a P5 role
When, in 1989, Miami won its third title of the decade, only one conference-affiliated team since 1982 (Oklahoma) had been crowned national champion. But when Miami won it again two years later, they did so as a member of the Big East.
The late 80s and early 90s were a major pivot point for college football. The U.S. economy was headed for recession, and the big football independents of the 1980s were having a harder time turning a profit by going it alone. Schools began seeking the stability of major conferences and the big-money TV deals they were able to collectively bargain.
This trend was an existential threat to the Metro Conference, which did not sponsor football. So in January 1990, the Metro commissioned Raycom Sports to conduct a feasibility study for a proposed 16-team super-conference, broken into two divisions: North and South.
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