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By Published: May 19, 2014 at 10:54 PM PDT Last Updated: May 20, 2014 at 6:30 AM PDT
Of those 13, 11 come from an even smaller pool of players: Goal keepers.
“Everyone says it’s just a coincidence and kind of walks away, but the ratio of goal keepers to field players is 15 to 1, 16 to 2, and I know plenty of goal keepers that have cancers and I don’t know many field players,” Griffin said.
Griffin said she can’t walk away from what she’s discovered, and she’s not alone. Former professional goalie and reality TV star Ethan Zohn, who has twice beaten non-Hodgkins lymphoma, had been keeping his own list, which he has now handed over to Griffin.
Combined, the lists name 27 players with cancer, and 22 of them are goal keepers.
Griffin can’t say why goalies are getting cancer, but she wonders if it’s the field turf and the crumb rubber used to make it. She said goalies spend a lot of time on the ground diving for balls, blocking shots and sometimes ingesting the small rubber pellets.
“I lived in the stuff,” former UW goal keeper Jorden Alerding said of the turf. “Four to five times a week I was on it for hours — bleeding sweating, everything. Looking back now I wonder could that have been the cause.”
Griffin’s first brush with the unproven connection between cancer and the pellets came when she visited Alerding, who was being treated for cancer.
“She said, ‘I just think it’s something with the field turf. I don’t know what it is, but I think there’s something in those black dots,'” Griffin said.
The former Husky was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma during her freshman year of college when doctors discovered a large, deadly tumor.
“It was about the size, a little bigger than a softball, right in the center of my chest,” Alerding said.
Alerding is now cancer free, but she still questions the health effects of crumb rubber and the lack of further research.
“If this can be prevented, I don’t know why there isn’t more effort being made to do the research and find out,” she said.
The pain is still fresh for June Leahy. Her daughter, Austen Everett, a star goalie for Seattle’s Blanchet High School and later the University of Miami, died a year and a half ago.
By the time Everett lost her second battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Leahy was raising questions about the use of crumb rubber on soccer fields.
“I feel like there is a strong correlation with the turf,” she said.
This isn’t the first time people have raised concerns about the turf, either. In 2008, a goal keeper at Tacoma’s Stadium High School battled Hodgkins lymphoma. Back then, Luke Beardemphl and his family wondered if crumb rubber had played a part in his cancer.
“I’ll catch it. It’ll stop the ball but not the pellets. They’ll go into my face, go into my eyes, my mouth,” Beardemphl said in 2008.
Earlier that year, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission tested some blades of grass used in synthetic turf for lead. The commission found they did not contain enough of it to put children at risk.
The agency later stated that its “exposure assessment did not include chemical or other toxic metals, beyond lead.”
Tires do contain metals and chemicals that have been ruled too toxic to burn in Washington state. The average athletic field uses 27,000 of them.
So, can prolonged exposure to the fields make people sick? The Synthetic Turf Council says no.
The president of the trade organization was unavailable to talk about this story, but the group directed us to a statement on its website.
“For 40 years, under EPA oversight and OSHA- regulated manufacturing, not one person has ever reported ill effects related to any materials associated with synthetic turf,” the statement reads.
Those statements and tests cannot shake loose the feeling Griffin gets every time she learns the name of another goal keeper with cancer.
She also knows that feelings and suspicion do not equal evidence.
The team’s head physician, Dr. John O’Kane, says the concern is valid and has talked with Griffin about the need for scientific and medical research on the effects of crumb rubber.
He said Griffin’s list is only a starting point.
“The question you would need to ask is over that same time period, how many goalies are there that haven’t gotten cancer?” O’Kane said. “And until you understand that number, you really can’t interpret that there’s anything particularly dangerous about being a goalie when it comes to cancer.”
O’Kane said that kind of research could take years. Griffin hopes someone is willing to take on the work to provide her with an answer. She said any answer will do.
“I would love for it to be disproven or for someone to grab me by the throat and say,’These are the facts. This is why it could never be this. This is just happenstance.’ That would be great,” she said.
One former Husky — Alerding — is on Griffin’s list.
Mayor Ed Murray says “Seattle is not Ferguson.” In countless ways I’m sure he’s right, except for this very important one: It’s just as unlikely for cops to get charged for bad deeds here as it is in supposedly backward Missouri.
In fact we’re arguably worse than Ferguson.
No offense to the thousands of protesters marching on behalf of Michael Brown. But what has stood out to me is how the Ferguson case isn’t nearly as flagrant as recent police-brutality cases here in progressive Puget Sound.
In Ferguson, the police officer, Darren Wilson, had a good case to make that he was under some level of assault. If it’s true that Brown slugged the officer through the squad-car door and tried to wrestle away his gun — as the officer and some witnesses attest — then getting even a low-level manslaughter charge to stick against the officer would be next to impossible.
The Ferguson case is supercharged by that region’s racial history. But still — compare the facts of it to what happened in Seattle to John T. Williams in 2010. Ferguson isn’t on the same radar screen of outrageousness.
Unlike Brown, Williams didn’t assault anyone or do anything hostile, beyond toting his carving knife with a wood block and maybe looking menacingly in a police officer’s direction. The officer, Ian Birk, told him to drop the knife. When Williams didn’t — perhaps because he couldn’t hear — Birk shot five times and killed him.
Even the police department called that “egregious.” Yet no charges were filed. Our outgoing U.S. attorney, Jenny Durkan, this week compared that case to Ferguson in an article she wrote for The Washington Post, headlined: “As a federal prosecutor I know how hard it is to charge officers like Darren Wilson.”
An officer has to have malice or willfully bad intent to be convicted, she wrote. It’s an incredibly high bar. “Accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment is not sufficient,” Durkan wrote when declining to charge Birk.
You can see why the chances of Darren Wilson getting convicted by the state or the feds in Ferguson would be near zero.
We’ve had other baffling cases, such as Christopher Harris, a completely innocent man who mistakenly ran from police in Belltown in 2009 and then was shoved into a wall so hard it paralyzed him for life. The officer who did that not only wasn’t charged, but remained on the force.
But one case here was so extreme that prosecutors took the rare step of charging the officer. Troy Meade, of the Everett police, had shot an aggressive drunken driver, Niles Meservey, seven times from behind, killing him. The officer’s conduct was so questionable that a fellow officer did something unheard of: He crossed the blue line to testify against his mate, claiming the force Meade used was both excessive and vindictive.
Yet Meade was acquitted of second-degree murder by a jury in 2011. The officer argued the car was about to back up and hit him, and because the law puts such a premium on this state of mind defense, he walked.
My point isn’t to bash our local cops. These were isolated cases and don’t reflect on other officers.
But the narrative that’s developed out of Ferguson is that the officer there wasn’t charged because the system is inherently racist. Parts of it may be, but more so it’s just incredibly pro-cop. It lets them walk pretty much no matter what.
Durkan writes it’s this way for a legitimate reason: “We want police to be able to make split second decisions necessary to protect us.” That is crucial.
But in the Williams shooting in particular, it tilted too far. If there was nothing wrong legally with what happened to him, then it’s hard to imagine anything with the police ever being legally wrong.
Ferguson is bringing up an important debate about racial inequality.
But the case is too murky to support a national movement on police accountability.
We’ve had much starker ones right here. Seattle may be more Ferguson than Ferguson.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com