He's playing new role for Penn State
He's playing new role for Penn State
Adam Taliaferro still can't run, except for office.
He'll never play football again, but he might, in subtle, off-the-field ways, help his alma mater back to the top of the college game.
Taliaferro is a very accomplished 31-year-old man who, for five games in 2000, played defensive back for Penn State.
In week five of that season, against Ohio State in Columbus, he lowered his shoulder to tackle Ohio State running back Jerry Westbrooks, as he said Wednesday, "the exact same way I did 100 other times.''
Only this time his helmet collided with Westbrooks' knee. The resultant spinal cord injuries left him paralyzed from the neck down. The crown of his helmet hit the turf, and his broken, defenseless body rolled awkwardly over his neck.
He was 18 years old.
He remembers none of the hit and its immediate aftermath. For the next two months, he admitted, he cried every night.
Eventually, he turned it around. But not alone. It left him with a deep appreciation of places like Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center.
"It's too bad,'' he said, "that more people don't know about the miracles that go on here every day.''
Taliaferro visited Schreiber on Wednesday, and spoke to a gathering of friends and donors to the facility on Good Drive west of Lancaster, at a luncheon and again in the evening.
He says he was reminded often, as he walked the halls and visited teachers, therapists and kids under their care, of the year he spent in hospitals, of the therapy and rehab work on his own body that still continues, and of the brilliance and dedication of the caregivers who helped him make a hapless lie of the claim, "you'll never walk again.''
Walk? The first order of business, once Taliaferro's anger and disillusionment faded, was to move one finger.
"When I could move that finger,'' he said, holding up his left index, "I got excited. You learn to appreciate the little things …''
He couldn't feed or dress himself for months. Even he scoffed when Joe Paterno, a frequent visitor while Taliaferro was rehabbing in his native New Jersey during that first, post-injury year, insisted that he would lead Penn State's team onto the field for a game.
But the little things kept piling up. Taliaferro returned to Penn State as a student, and graduated in 2005.
Yes, he walked again. Yes, he led the Nittany Lions on the field, less than a year after the accident, for the 2001 season opener against Miami.
He was far from finished. Taliaferro went to law school at Rutgers-Camden, with a letter of recommendation from JoePa, graduated in 2009, and practiced law until September of last year.
Now he's a patient advocate for Bristol-Myers Squibb, meaning he works with charities and other health-care organizations on how his company can help their organization do what it does better.
Last year he got married, was elected to the Gloucester County (N.J.) Board of Chosen Freeholders (similar to county commissioners) and, notably, became the youngest voting member of the Penn State Board of Trustees.
He was one of four new members elected after the board drew unprecedented attention and criticism in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and firing of Paterno in November of 2011.
"Penn State was there for me in the worst of times,'' he said. "When I saw everything that happened, I just figured, what can I do to help? I had no idea then what it really entailed.''
He's not the only one. Penn State's 32-member board of trustees had, and to a large extent still has, a reputation as an insular, secretive and almost autocratic body.
Taliaferro admitted he's wondered, more than once, "What the heck I signed up for.''
He also said, although without details or specifics, that maybe ice is breaking.
"Most of the work for me so far has been trying to understand how the board works,'' he said. "We can only go up from here. I sense that many of the trustees are starting to warm up.''
On Bill O'Brien, he's with the overwhelming majority: "I sure hope he sticks around.''
Someone asked him if he has any advice for parents whose kids think sports is everything, and athletes role models.
He's thought about it, since he plans on being a parent.
"That's how I was; all my heroes were NFL players,'' he admitted. "I haven't come up with that answer.''
Yes, he said, despite his own experience and everything we now know about football and safety, if he had a son who wanted to play football, he'd let him.
Asked about Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed lawsuit against the NCAA on Penn State's behalf, Taliaferro made clear that he wasn't speaking for the board of trustees or even as an attorney, and then admitted with a smile that, "I'm excited about it.''
nAdam Taliaferro, whose inspirational story began on the football field, is the youngest voting member of the Board of Trustees.