A Son's Offer, A Father's Decision

Shawn Springs
Shawn Springs and his father Ron have a close relationship and Shawn would have given up his NFL career to give Ron the kidney transplant he needs. (Courtesy Photo)
By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 18, 2005

If his father needs him, Shawn Springs says he will walk away from the money, the celebrity and the glamorous lifestyle of a professional athlete. The Washington Redskins cornerback, upon learning several years ago that his father needed a kidney transplant, offered one of his own, knowing he would not be allowed to play pro football with just one kidney.

But his father, Ron, the former Dallas Cowboys fullback who suffers from complications related to diabetes -- he had a foot amputated this year -- declined the offer and would not let his son even be tested to see if he is a transplant match.

"I think that was a tremendous gesture, and it just justifies the fact that he's a loving son," Ron Springs said by telephone from his Dallas home this past week. "But I couldn't have let him do that, because I always prayed and wanted him to be a professional athlete, so I would not have shortened his career by no means necessary."

When the Redskins and Cowboys meet today in a critical NFC East game, Ron Springs, 49, will be home in Dallas unable to make the trip for fear that it will worsen his condition. He knows he needs a transplant soon and has been buoyed by the recent news that one of his nieces is possibly a match.

"I was really going to try to make the game," he said, "but I had to get some extra therapy and the prosthesis I have has been giving me trouble, so I'm trying to get that fixed. So it would have been too much trouble to travel through the airport and walking around. I don't want to risk anything, and I wouldn't want to do something to set back my transplant. I'm just going to lay back, relax, have a good holiday and don't do anything stupid to eliminate my chances of getting a transplant immediately."

For Shawn Springs, who has spent years trying to track down family members and researching the transplant process, the news could not have been more timely. He also realizes, however, that there still are hurdles to overcome before his father can regain his health. So the Pro Bowl defensive back still has not ruled out becoming a donor at some point.

"Hopefully, everything is going to work out; we're just waiting on it," Shawn Springs said. "The thing is, when you're waiting on a kidney transplant and you're a diabetic he's never really healthy enough to receive the kidney. And sometimes he might be ready to, and then he gets sick or has an ulcer or something. That's the tough deal, getting it so it won't reject.

"So, yeah, if it came down to do it, if that was the last resort, I'd do it. I know he told me no, but I'd be a donor. Obviously, my NFL career would be over, but that's something I would have to do. It's a part of life and I'd go on and teach school after I'm done playing football or something. Be a reporter or whatever. I'd just do something else."

While Shawn Springs, 30, who grew up in Silver Spring, spent the week receiving treatment for back and knee injuries at Redskins Park, doing what he can to be available for the Redskins' biggest game in quite awhile at FedEx Field, his father was undergoing his grueling weekly regimen. Ron Springs receives dialysis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and spent three months in a hospital earlier this year because of a staph infection. Even relatively minor ailments can become major for him.

Still, the decision to miss the critical game was not easy. Father and son realize the stakes in this rivalry from their unique place in it.

Ron Springs, who attends as many of Shawn's home and road games as possible, grew up in Redskins country in Williamsburg, then became a well-recognized Cowboy and now lives near Texas Stadium. Shawn looked up to his father and emulated the Cowboys' stars, but had an appreciation for the Redskins during their glory days as well.

Ron Springs, a gregarious and outspoken locker-room leader during his NFL career, spent six seasons with the Cowboys and two with Tampa Bay before retiring. He was a key component in some of Hall of Fame tailback Tony Dorsett's best seasons, and a fixture on the playoff teams from 1981 to 1983 (he led Dallas in touchdowns in 1981). The Redskins were on the rise then, winning their first Super Bowl in the 1982 season under Coach Joe Gibbs, and Dallas-Washington games were a national event. The importance of today's game -- with both teams battling for a playoff spot after several lean years -- made it even more tempting to come to Washington.

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