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A college sophomore is lying unconscious in a hospital bed, and the NCAA is issuing him threats

Update: NCAA says they took no action to shut down two online fundraising efforts.

The illustrator's depiction of the NCAA front office. Credit: Getty Images / Illustration by ThinkProgress
The illustrator's depiction of the NCAA front office. Credit: Getty Images / Illustration by ThinkProgress

There is an update to this story below.

Late in the second quarter of Tennessee State University’s road game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Tigers linebacker Christion Abercrombie trotted off the field, headed towards the TSU sideline, and collapsed.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the cause for the injury was, but medical personnel administered oxygen on the field, and when that failed, they loaded him onto a stretcher and rushed him to the hospital, where he received emergency head surgery. After the game, head coach Rod Reed told reporters the play that preceded Abercrombie’s collapse was routine.

As of Tuesday morning, Abercrombie is still hospitalized in critical condition, and has yet to regain consciousness. Fans, friends, and other supporters have provided round-the-clock care and comfort for Abercrombie and his immediate family, who traveled to Nashville from their home in Atlanta to be with their son. The sister of Tennessee State’s head football coach and an unrelated Nashville resident started separate GoFundMe campaigns to help offset some of the considerable expenses — hotel, travel, food, missed work, etc. — incurred by his family.

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And in response to the community’s heartwarming display of generosity, compassion, and concern, the NCAA issued a threat to Christion Abercrombie, who is lying unconscious in a hospital bed after sacrificing his body and risking his life to line their pockets.

You see, the NCAA are notorious sticklers about money, policing each nickel that finds its way into the pocket of every third string kickoff specialist or redshirt freshman benchwarmer. If they catch even a whiff of ill-gotten gains — anything from a paid meal to short stays rent-free on friends’ living room floors — they threaten to revoke a player’s eligibility, and the full scholarships that often come with them.

So when word of two unauthorized fundraisers set up to support Abercrombie’s family reached the ears of the NCAA, they immediately warned the school that if those two pages weren’t shut down, Abercrombie — who, again, is UNCONSCIOUS AND CLINGING TO LIFE BECAUSE HE PLAYS A SPORT THAT MAKES THE NCAA MILLIONS OF DOLLARS EVERY YEAR — could be stripped of his eligibility.

Citing unnamed potential violations of the NCAA’s rules, the school had the other two fundraising campaigns shut down. According to the Tennesseean, the NCAA told TSU any other unauthorized attempts at crowd-funding may risk Abercrombie’s eligibility.

A third GoFundMe campaign that was launched by Tennessee State University itself was graciously given permission to proceed by the NCAA, presumably because the school has oversight on how the money is distributed, God forbid someone accidentally buys Abercrombie a slightly more comfortable pillow to rest the head doctors had to saw open last weekend to relieve the pressure on his skull.

It was hard to imagine, before Saturday, how the NCAA could possibly become any more ghoulish than they already were. For decades, they have refused to even consider fairly compensating players for their labor, insisting that sham educations and drab accommodations in college dormitories was sufficient payment for their roles propping up multi-billion dollar enterprises. Not content with merely pushing thousands of athletes into indentured servitude, the NCAA also forbids players from using their status as elite athletes to earn any money outside the confines of their university. Last year, they threatened kickoff specialist Donald De La Haye from the University of Central Florida, who happened to have a popular YouTube channel that predated his college enrollment. The videos on his channel were completely unrelated to his football career, and their popularity had nothing to do with him being a Division I athlete, but because the channel was monetized, the NCAA issued an ultimatum: shut down the channel, or lose your eligibility. He refused, and was kicked off the team. He’s now suing the university, and by extension, the NCAA itself.

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But the case of Christion Abercrombie is on another level of human depravity. Here is a young man who is entering his fourth day battling for his life, and the NCAA is issuing warnings to his family that would make a mob boss uneasy. What’s more, Abercrombie’s eligibility is also what entitles him to health insurance provided by TSU and the NCAA, according to the Tennessean. Should his eligibility be stripped, coverage of his medical expenses might well be stripped away as well.

In response to the mounting (and largely critical) coverage of their handling of the Abercrombie case, the NCAA’s public relations machine kicked into gear last night, pushing back on reporting from SB Nation and others by insisting the NCAA is working with the school to provide support for Abercrombie and his family. Notably, no one — including SB Nation — is arguing to the contrary. What the NCAA has yet to respond to is why they are forbidding others from providing support as well.

ThinkProgress reached out to the NCAA for a comment. We will update this story if we hear back.


Update, October 3, 2018 1:30pm: On Tuesday evening, the NCAA issued a statement again disputing accounts that the organization in any way prohibited efforts to provide financial support to Abercrombie’s family.

What remains unclear is why Tennessee State University moved to shut down the two GoFundMe accounts set up by two independent supporters. In statements to local news outlets, the university explicitly cited potential violations of NCAA bylaws, and expressed concern that Abercrombie’s eligibility could be in jeopardy.

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It’s also unclear if the NCAA’s statement covers any future attempts to set up fundraising efforts for the Abercrombie family. ThinkProgress has followed up with the NCAA, and will update this story again should we receive further clarification.