Injury raises safety concerns at Merlo

By The Beacon | September 11, 2014 2:23am

By Malika Andrews | Sept. 10, 2014

The last thing freshman midfielder/forward Jacob Hanlin remembers before being shoved into a cement wall and knocked unconscious was his attempt to kick the ball down the sidelines during the Aug. 31 game against Evansville. Hanlin was down for 17 minutes before an ambulance rushed him to the hospital.

As it turned out, Hanlin had a fractured skull and broken wrist. After three days in the hospital and several surgeries on his wrist, Hanlin is now in a Portland hotel, with his parents, recovering.

“I am thankful that I didn’t have to have any surgeries on my head,” Hanlin said. “I know when I fractured my skull, I was bleeding a little bit towards my brain. With my wrist fracture, they had to go in and put some plates and screws in to make it so my wrist would grow correctly.”

The incident has prompted the Athletics Department to add temporary padding to the wall at Merlo Field in time for Friday’s men’s and women’s soccer games. As a long-term solution, Athletics is in the process of acquiring permanent, custom-fit padding.

“With any injury to a student athlete, or fan, or anyone else, you look at what you can do to improve in the future,” Director of Athletics Scott Leykam said.

Hanlin thinks the wall is a safety hazard.

“I feel like they need to put padding on the concrete wall,” he said. “I didn’t realize before the injury, but after I wondered why there was even a wall there.”

Although Hanlin’s injuries have drawn attention to the wall, it is not the first time safety concerns have been raised about it. Richard Bennett, director of sports medicine, said he notified the administration of the wall’s potential hazards in 2009 when he was hired.

“It was something that was talked about when I first got here, something that the head team physician and I alerted administration to,” Bennett said. “Initially, it was just that we had not had an incident, that’s what we were told, and so now that we have had one, work is in place trying to figure out the correct padding.”

In light of this incident, Athletics is looking into how they can improve safety not only on Merlo, but also in the Chiles Center, the construction of the new Beauchamp Recreation and Wellness Center and the renovations being made to the Joe Etzel Field.

“Every time you have an injury or situation, you learn and you need to get better. And the focus for us is looking forward, how do we improve our facilities and how do we improve our student athlete experience,” Leykam said.

Although Hanlin is recovering, his injuries will sideline him for a while. He has made the decision to redshirt and will not return to the field this season.

“Even though it’s not what I was planning on, and not what I was hoping for, redshirting is probably what is best at this point,” Hanlin said.

Jared Robinson, the Evansville player who shoved Hanlin into the concrete wall while fighting him for the ball, earned a red card and a two-game suspension for the late hit.

“Seeing your teammate get hit like that really makes your blood boil,” sophomore teammate Thomas Peterson said.

“I have had wonderful support from everyone at UP,” Hanlin said. “My whole team showed up, all of the coaches, and trainers. The support was unbelievable. There were people that I barely even knew from UP’s Athletics staff. Just knowing everyone was right there and supporting me.”

Bennett is also proud of the emergency response.

“There have been a couple catastrophic instances since I have been here, and I would call this one of them,” Bennett said. “I am very proud of everyone involved and what they did to make this situation the best that it could be.”

Malika Andrews is a sports reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at or on Twitter @malika_andrews.