Father Ed Bradley, the team chaplain for Louisville basketball, is an Owensboro native and works as the campus minister at Owensboro Catholic High School.
As did the rest of the team, Father Bradley had a front row seat to the horrific broken leg suffered by Louisville guard Kevin Ware in Sunday's Elite Eight game against Duke.
Father Bradley was kind enough to speak to me about how he handled the situation and just how tough it was for him.
Initial thoughts when he saw it happen:
“It’s still really hard to talk about. It just happened so quickly. I saw the break and I wish I hadn’t have seen it. I just cannot get it out of my mind. It looked so awful, so horrible.
“Then, of course, I was concerned about the other players. Kevin is such a good guy and well-liked by all the players. He and Chane Behanan – they’re really good friends. I wanted to do what I could to comfort Kevin, but I was also concerned about the other kids and they’re reaction. It actually just almost made me vomit, to see the leg.”
What he said to the team:
“These are kids. I think we all forget that sometimes and think they’re adults. One of them said to me, ‘why would God let this happen to Kevin tonight.’ The big thing was that God didn’t do this to Kevin…just trying to get them through that and let them know that God loves Kevin very much. God’s not punishing him. I really don’t remember exactly what I said to them, but that was the thing that I wanted to get across to them – that this does not mean that God doesn’t love him and that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you as a team. He’s still with you and wants you to play to the best of your ability using the gifts and talents he’s given you – that kind of thing.”
How he maintained composure:
“I’m not a young person anymore, so I’ve been a part of a lot of tragic events. It’s very important that I maintain my composure. At the same time, it’s OK too to show emotion. I 'didn’t boo-hoo, boo-hoo' cry but when talking to them, there were tears in my eyes and ran down my face. I think that’s OK…it’s very important for me to be solid and strong in a moment like that so they can get strength from me and try to cope with whatever the situation is.
“It was very hard for the team. I can remember thinking there will be one of two reactions: either they’re going to fall apart at halftime and not be able to get it together the second half, or they’re going to come out of that locker room and really whip Duke. The latter was what they did, and they did it for Kevin. Kevin told them, ‘don’t worry about me, win this game, just win this game.’ They wanted to win it for him and they did and they did a great job.”
Leading them in prayer:
He said he led them in prayer at halftime, after the game and then on the bus back.
“I prayed with all of them and then I prayed with some of them individually.”
Message to them:
He really doesn’t remember his message specifically.
“I was trying mostly to let them know that what they’re feeling is real and it’s right and it’s OK. They were still grieving because we still hadn’t really heard about Kevin and how he was going to be. We got the call that he was in the operating room and it was great to know that the operation was successful and he was going to be on campus Tuesday and that he’d be able to go with us to Atlanta (Wednesday).
“That really fired them up. Now they’re just so excited. Really, I think he will be like the mascot. I really think we’re going to win it all now and this is going to help.”
On Kevin’s personal strength:
“I think at first it just goes to show what a really team-oriented person he is. He plays like that. He doesn’t think about Kevin. He thinks about the team. When he goes in for Peyton or Russ, his first thought is how can I get assists and make plays for other people, get them the ball. It just shows what kind of a guy he is, athletically, as a member of that team. That team is what’s important to him.”
What he said to Kevin:
He didn’t go over to him on the floor because he said a lot of people were around him and he didn’t want to make a scene.
“I was able to tell Kevin, ‘Kevin, you’re going to be OK. It's going to be OK and God’s going to take care of you.’ He said, ‘thanks, Father.’”
Relationship with Kevin:
“Kevin is one of the most special guys on the team. I do have a good relationship with him. He’s always so upbeat and he always makes me feel like he’s so happy to see me. He always thanks me. When I pray with the team before the game, he’ll always come over and say thanks. Sometimes he’ll say, ‘I need a special prayer today,’ or something.”
On how this compares to other tragic events he's seen:
“In terms of sports and injuries in sports, I think this would be the most serious of all of them. Just to see that bone – I’ve seen a lot of kids get injured and hurt, but nothing like this. This was the most serious sports injury that I’ve injured.”