Written by Jeff Meyer on 26 Sep 2015
The football program at Indiana University has certainly seen its ups and downs over the past several decades, but it has long enjoyed one particularly inspirational touchstone, namely the presence of “Big” Al Carpenter. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a very young age, Carpenter has been heavily involved with the Hoosier football team for 42 years, dating back to the start of legendary coach Lee Corso’s tenure on the Bloomington campus. Despite the many challenges his condition has posed, both physically and cognitively, “Big” Al’s devotion to IU’s gridiron warriors has earned him the respect and admiration of players, staff and fellow fans alike.
Confronting Cerebral Palsy’s Challenges
Though he has never been able to read, write or walk, Carpenter proudly sports a championship ring won by the Hoosier squad in 1979’s Holiday Bowl game. This fact is attributable to the remarkable relationship he established with then-coach Corso, a man who found Carpenter’s courage, dedication and indomitable spirit something to behold. It is easy to understand why “Big” Al’s story has been so compelling to so many. Starting in 1973, Carpenter began hobbling on crutches to the roadway where he could hitch rides in order to attend football practice on campus. Even now, he embarks on the three-mile, one-hour scooter ride necessary to reach the stadium each Saturday, often attending practices as well.
So impressed by Carpenter’s love of IU football and commitment to the team, Corso ultimately invited him to become a member of the team. Carpenter spent every subsequent game on the sidelines alongside the players and coaching staff, basking in the joy of being part of the action. At the triumphant end of the 1979 Holiday Bowl, both Corso and Carpenter were hoisted aloft and carried from the field by the victors. Though Corso has long since moved on to become a popular ESPN broadcast personality, he and Carpenter remain in close touch, a fact which is a true testament to the inspirational impact this particular cerebral palsy patient has had on countless individuals affiliated with IU football.
Fundamental Facts About Cerebral Palsy
While Al Carpenter’s tale of triumph over adversity is undoubtedly inspirational, it also draws attention to the true plight of those diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Frequently caused by a traumatic event and subsequent oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery, cerebral palsy impacts a child’s brain and central nervous system, often in devastating ways. Muscle control, speech development, cognitive function and vision are among the critical areas that can be affected by this condition.
The severity of cerebral palsy manifestations can vary from one individual to the next, though the most serious cases may require a lifetime of costly medical treatment, special educational interventions and assistance with the tasks of daily life. Because it is often the case that preventable medical negligence at the time of birth is to blame for a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, the legal system affords families the ability to seek significant financial compensation and a degree of accountability from the medical professionals responsible for such a tragic outcome.