The first step for Kurt Coleman was forgiving himself.
Coleman, the safety the Vikings acquired about five months ago in free agency, mentioned that line of logic several times in an interview discussing a life-changing event for him and former Ohio State teammate Tyson Gentry in 2006. In an instant of impact, both of their lives changed.
It was a spring scrimmage at Ohio State. Coleman was a defensive back and Gentry was a walk-on punter and wide receiver. Gentry caught a pass and Coleman tackled him, believing it was a hit like any other routine one.
The result was tragic and paralyzing for Gentry.
“You play this game to obviously inflict pain but never to injure somebody like that and to that extent. It was tough for me to (see) the realization of what I had done, but you’ve got to be able to forgive yourself,” Coleman said. “Tyson and his family have obviously forgiven me for the situation. It could have happened to anybody. But through my faith and through the family and friends that I have, everybody kept lifting me up and I was able to visit him. Him and I are very close still. It’s a better relationship.”
Coleman called it a “routine” hit, and other accounts of the play describe it just like Coleman does: Gentry caught the ball, Coleman tackled him and Gentry landed awkwardly, with his head sort of catching the turf as the rest of his body’s momentum continued forward.
The result was a broken C4 vertebra and, while he has use of his arms these days, he remains unable to walk. Fortunately, his life continues to move forward. Last year, Gentry married the girl he met in 2009 at Ohio State.
Coleman said his relationship with Gentry is “very good” these days.
“He got married this past year. I’m very close to his family and friends. Even during college, I would come over to his house and we would grill out,” Coleman said. “It was just one of those relationships where I don’t think it would have been the same had the situation not happened, but I’m thankful for the relationship that I have with him and his family. He’s told me himself he’s become a better person and a better man because of it. It’s tough for me to accept that, but I’m just thankful that I have him alive and I have the friendship that I have with him.”
Gentry graduated from Ohio State in 2009 and recently finished his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling online from the University of Buffalo.
Coleman is hoping to stick with the Vikings, currently listed as the second-string free safety behind Harrison Smith. His performance Friday night didn’t hurt. He had the only interception of the game and added three tackles.
After four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, when he amassed 29 starts, 221 tackles and seven interceptions, he hit the free-agent market. He reportedly turned down an offer from the New York Jets and settled on the Vikings for a one-year, $900,000 contract that includes no guarantees.
While he is still reminded about his life-changing hit on Gentry, he is able to put it out of his mind when he is in the field.
“Honestly, once you forgive yourself, you’ve got to be able to put it in the past. When you’re on the football field, you can’t play with any type of second-guess nature or you’re going to end up getting hurt. For me, I play with no fear,” he said. “I understand that there’s a lot of consequences when you’re on that field, but that’s the risk that you take when you’re out there. It’s a high-reward, high-risk situation, but that’s why I play football.”
So far, Coleman has been decent but unspectacular at training camp at a position riddled with injuries early on. Andrew Sendejo started training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a lingering back injury that occurred while lifting weights in the offseason. He returned to practice last week, about one week after Robert Blanton, the early favorite to win the strong safety position, left with a hamstring injury.
There is plenty of opportunity for Coleman to find a role, and Gentry’s understanding has helped him move forward.
“He was one of the first people that said he forgave me and it wasn’t my fault. I think when you have that burden on your shoulders, it’s a tough come-to-reality of what I’ve done to somebody,” Coleman said. “But with him forgiving me – ultimately you’ve got to be able to forgive yourself for going through the situation. I was able to do that through my faith.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Sunday slant: Safety’s paralyzing hit in past
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