An American football player injured by a dangerous late tackle during an intercollegiate game earlier this month returned to competition Sunday, with the foul play by a rival university team still stirring criticism in Japan.
Kosei Okuno, a quarterback at western Japan’s Kwansei Gakuin University, played his first game since suffering injuries to his back and elsewhere during a game on May 6 against Nihon University.
After playing as a quarterback in the second half of Kwansei Gakuin’s game in Osaka against Kansai University, Okuno spoke to reporters for the first time since the illegal hit sparked nationwide controversy.
(Kosei Okuno returns to action)
“I didn’t know what happened, and I was (flat on my back and) looking up with pain in my back and leg,” Okuno said. “I was worried about playing today, but I tried not to give it much thought. I played at ease.”
“The tackle is a play that should basically never happen. I wasn’t scared of getting tackled again.”
The sophomore at the Hyogo Prefecture school also addressed Nihon University’s Taisuke Miyagawa, who hit Okuno from behind long after the ball had been released and has since said does not intend to play anymore.
“When he apologized to me in person, I felt really sorry for him,” Okuno said. “I hope he will come back to the field as a player again so we can compete in a fair manner within the rules.”
Miyagawa told a press conference on Tuesday that he committed the late tackle after being instructed by coaches to injure the Kwansei Gakuin quarterback.
In the fallout, Nihon University American football head coach Masato Uchida and assistant coach Tsutomu Inoue have both resigned their positions, and Uchida said he had temporarily been suspended from his position as a managing director of the university.
Nihon University has apologized over the incident, which is being investigated by police as a possible case of assault. But it has denied that “direct” instructions were issued to injure Okuno.
Okuno, however, refrained from sharing his thoughts about Uchida and Inoue, adding he hopes the incident will not tarnish the image of the sport.
“In the end, I hope people will not think American football is a dangerous sport and notice it’s a fair and really exciting sport,” he said. “I hope all sports will be played fairly within the rules.”
Kwansei Gakuin head coach Hideaki Toriuchi said he was glad to see the quarterback back on the field with few effects from the incident, whether mentally or physically.
“He is recovering from the injury faster than I thought he would,” he said. “I was also worried (about his mental state), but he talks to me like nothing happened.”