Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nehlen Recovering After Heart Surgery Continued

I have a piece up at FanHouse about Don Nehlen having triple bypass surgery. It's been a crazy kind of day with lots of stuff floating around in my head. This story about Nehlen kind of brought it all together for me.

Make no mistake about it, I think the world of the man. As a coach and as a man. But one thing that has rubbed me wrong since his retirement has been his sponsorship with the Friends of Coal. I think I have a very unique view on the whole thing, so bare with me.

Coal is vital to this country. It provides half the nations energy. It provides West Virginians with good paying jobs they can't find anywhere else in this state. Coal mining has its benefits. But it also has a ton of negatives that I have discussed here from time to time. Namely the raping of West Virginia's mountains and wild life through strip mining, and the horrible effects it has on the health of the men and women that mine the coal.

My unique perspective? My grandfather died of Black Lung disease. Way, way too early. To be honest with you, I barely knew the man. The one thing I can tell you about the man is I hated to be around him because he smoked almost constantly. Beaten up by a hard life of mining coal, I think those cigarettes were probably the only thing that made him feel good.

As fate would have it, I work for the Federal Black Lung Program. My grandmother lived a long life until passing away in 2004. She still received benefits from my grandfathers black lung case until the day she died. I know this because when I returned to work from her funeral, her case found its way on my desk and I ended up being the one that terminated her case.

In my job, I talk with a lot of coal miners and their widows. So I think I have a pretty good idea of the kind of destruction black lung causes these families. It robs kids of their fathers and their mothers. And as much as I would like to tell you they are fairly compensated for their loss, that just isn't true. And really, no amount of money could ever make up for the loss of something so precious.

Not that I needed another reason to be thankful for my father, but I can't tell you how happy I am that my father got an education and got out and made something of himself away from the mines. For all the Saturdays he was able to take me to Morgantown to watch Don Nehlen's football teams without a cough or having to stop every 20 steps of the stadium stairs to catch his breath, I'm thankful. For every conversation we have and the seemingly millions of times he helps me, I'm so thankful he never had to set one foot in those mines.

I didn't intend this to be a Father's Day post when I started, but considering everything above I don't know how I couldn't. So Happy Father's Day dad, and thank you.

To get a good look at the life miners live, head over to and check out the 30Days Morgan Spurlock did on mining.

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