First and foremost, sports build a community. If you choose to live to hate every opponent and criticize your favorite team’s performance at every turn, you’re totally missing the point. Most players, both collegiate and professional, give everything simply for a chance to be a part of something greater than themselves.
When a player is injured on the field, teammates rally to their side. When they’re injured off of it, though, the feeling hits home even harder, and fan bases show their true colors. A former Florida Gators linebacker, and later a member of the Oakland Raiders, Neiron Ball is in the fight for his life, and his former teams are rallying support for the 26-year-old and his incredible story.
Hailing from Jackson, Georgia, Neiron Ball was named First-Team All-State as a defensive lineman in 2009 after racking up 104 tackles, 19.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles as a high school junior.
When Ball enrolled at the University of Florida in 2010, he contributed right away during his freshman season as a special teams standout, appearing in all 13 games. Then, his medical issues began, and Ball missed his entire sophomore year in 2011 after complaining of terrible headaches.
Ball was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation, which is a tangling of the brain’s blood vessels, which required surgery.
“I can’t really explain it,” Ball said in 2012. “The closest thing I can think is somebody just smushing my brain… Like somebody was squeezing my brain.”
In a remarkable comeback, Neiron Ball returned the next season to play in 32 games for the Gators over three years until a knee injury ended his senior season after nine games.
After a second remarkable comeback, Ball recovered from the micro fracture after only five months to impress NFL scouts, and he was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Ball appeared in six games as a rookie, made two starts, and sacked Josh McCown of the Cleveland Browns on September 27, 2015.
It would be his only career sack, as injuries forced Ball out of football after two seasons.
The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF) posted an update to their Twitter page back in September 2018 stating that Ball was in a medically-induced coma. Neiron suffered a brain aneurysm, and the foundation believes it was caused after his operated AVM “was obliterated.”
What followed was an outpouring of support for the beloved athlete from across the football community.
UPDATE: Over the next few months, there was little information on Ball’s condition. But in July 2019, William Feinberg, the F-Club Room’s Game Day Host and Operations Director at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, posted an update he received from Neiron Ball’s sister, Natalie Myricks, to his Facebook page.
In the heartfelt letter, which you can read in its entirety right here, Myricks explained that for months, issues with Ball’s insurance have the family in a crisis. Numerous obstacles have left Ball, now a quadriplegic who communicates only with his eyes, without proper medical care. His insurance denied admission to a neurorehabilitation facility where he could the receive the care he needs.
Moves from Atlanta’s Emory Hospital, to a skilled nursing facility in East Point, Georgia, and finally to another critical care unit has only caused Ball’s condition to worsen.
Thanks to Feinberg sharing Natalie Myricks message, though, a GoFundMe page was launched to raise money for Ball’s healthcare. As of July 30, just six days since the fundraiser’s launch, over $85,000 has been raised. Among the donations is Ball’s college teammate and current Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who donated $10,000.
Sports build a community. It’s more than just wins and losses. For the rest of Neiron Ball’s life, he’ll be a member of the Florida Gators and the Raiders. This outpouring of support is truly remarkable, and it finally gives Ball and his family hope that his recovery is possible.
This article was originally published on September 25, 2018.