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Football Freshman Undergoes Surgery for Neck Injury

By Sam Danello, Crimson Staff Writer

Days after suffering a major neck injury, Harvard freshman Ben Abercrombie has undergone surgery and is recovering at a Rhode Island hospital.

The defensive back sustained the injury last Saturday in a game at Rhode Island. With 13 minutes left in the second quarter, Abercrombie collided with a Rams wide receiver and remained motionless on the ground. Medical personnel rushed him to the hospital.

Later neck vertebrae surgery went successfully, according to Abercrombie’s high school baseball coach, Adam Moseley. In a Twitter update, he explained that the freshman’s spinal cord had remained intact.

“The doctor is now waiting for the neck swelling and pressure and trauma to subside [so] Ben can regain feeling in his arms and legs,” Moseley wrote. “The doctor is hopeful that this will happen over the next several days.”

Earlier this week, Abercrombie required assistance breathing, but doctors were optimistic that he would regain this function by Sunday.

In the days since the injury, support has flooded social media. Friends, coaches, and rival teams have posted messages under the hashtag #prayforBen. Harvard football has fielded scores of calls.

On Tuesday, the Harvard Athletics Department emailed all student-athletes to notify them of Abercrombie’s situation. The email—cosigned by Director of Athletics Bob Scalise and football coach Tim Murphy—mentioned the “serious cervical injury” and encouraged players to seek out mental health resources if needed.

“Our hearts go out to Ben and his family right now, and they have our full support,” the email stated. “We are doing all that we can in aiding in his recovery.”

Internally, Murphy has held conversations with the football team. On Saturday, after Abercrombie left the field, the coach asked players whether they wanted to continue the game or head home. They decided to continue.

“Our kids are deeply affected by the injury and Ben being in the hospital right now,” Murphy said. “We’ve done our best to deal with that in terms of talking to our players [and] giving guidance.”

A native of Hoover, Ala., Abercrombie was playing in his first college contest on Saturday. He had risen to the top of the depth chart despite a contingent of veteran defensive backs.

At Hoover High School, Abercrombie had starred for the football and baseball programs. In May 2017, the Buccaneers won a state title in baseball for the first time since 2008.

Abercrombie also captured state crowns as part of the football team in 2014 and 2016. He started at safety and earned a spot on the All-Alabama first team.

“Hoover [is] one of the top programs in the country, year in and year out,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that at the high school stage.”

Abercrombie’s accomplishments extended beyond the field. In high school, he earned a spot in the National Honor Society and a Finley Character Award, which recognizes exceptional students at Hoover.

Crimson recruiters noticed. Despite competition from Yale and Dartmouth, among other schools, Harvard extended an offer to Abercrombie in June 2016, and he confirmed the spot in the winter.

“Every kid we recruit has to pass three acid tests—great character, great student, and great athlete,” Murphy said. “He was a special player [at Hoover].”

The injury occurred on a typical sideline route, with Abercrombie colliding with the wide receiver from behind. Game action stopped immediately, as medics gathered to check vital functions.

Abercrombie’s exit overshadowed the rest of the afternoon. In the postgame press conference, both Murphy and the Rhode Island coach started their remarks with discussions of Abercrombie’s condition.

“Our most prevalent thoughts are for Ben Abercrombie, who sustained a significant injury today,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said. “Our thoughts and prayers today are with him and his family for a speedy recovery.”

This week, the Crimson football team faces the dilemma of keeping in mind Abercrombie while readying for nine more games. On Saturday, Harvard will play another Rhode Island opponent, Brown, at home.

On the minds of players, and many in the stands, will be Abercrombie’s health.

“We’re doing everything in our power to support Ben and his family,” Murphy said. “If we’re going to play, I think the best way to honor him is by playing our best and playing for him.”

—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at

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