CUTTING AN IMPOSING FIGURE ON THE FIELD, THE Arizona Sun Devil’s outside linebacker #79 weighs over three hundred pounds and holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same field while preparing for his MCAT exam, and participates in many off-field community outreach activities. Oh, and he’s gay. “I WAS ACTUALLY UNDECIDED IF I WAS GOING TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA (U OF A) OR ARIZONA STATE (ASU),” says Edward “Chip” Sarafin of his post-high school plans as he twirls the rainbow-gemmed ring given to him by his boyfriend. “U of A had a little more interest in me, but I took a chance and came down to [Tempe] to talk with Frank Kush who was able to get me a walk-on position at the time,” announced Sarafin. “I had to actually change my major,” Sarafin says of the move to ASU’s Tempe campus. “I was really undecided at the time … because I wanted to go into nursing like my Mom.” Sarafin later decided to try biomedical engineering, a field which he says very few people knew anything about five years ago. Biomedical engineering has now become a premier field of research, and professional sports is one of the areas people like Sarafin are helping to move forward at a blistering pace. “We call ourselves like, the jack of all trades of all engineers,” Sarafin says of his chosen area of study. “More and more, you’re seeing a lot of football helmets integrated with sensor technology … which is really big because it gives doctors the ability to see the hits that players are taking as they happen.” Sarafin quickly adds that Arizona State was one of the universities that worked most closely with equipment manufacturers TGen and Riddell, the world’s biggest, to develop new pads that more accurately determine the force and location of sensitive impacts. “That’s actually what I’m working on currently with Dr. Labelle (biomedical engineering professor at ASU), a carbon fiber helmet for football players that would be both lightweight and incredibly sturdy,” Sarafin remarks. Sarafin participates in many community outreach programs as well. “This thing I’m working on … is actually education in the lower levels of sports,” Sarafin says of his recent work. “Kids often think that you can play through a concussion like a sprained ankle and that just isn’t true … it’s actually one of the most serious injuries you can have.” This attitude is carried throughout professional sports as well. “Football players are incredibly tough, but being that way makes us more vulnerable to the ignorance of a serious injury and how it could affect us in the long term,” Sarafin comments.
Echoing his statement is Jadaveon Clowney, the number one overall pick in this year’s NFL draft who has publicly admitted to playing with a sports hernia through much of his most recent college season. As more NFL players reach senior citizen status, a rash of suicides has affected the landscape of professional football. “The ultimate goal is to be more proactive about these types of injuries and diagnose them before they ever get to that point,” Sarafin continues of his recent endeavors in the biomedical field. Of his work with the Pat Tillman Foundation, Sarafin works again with developing athletes to teach them the kind of acceptance they will have to learn to be successful on the field and in life. “It’s so important that we teach them this acceptance when they are young so when they actually experience and meet these different people in real life—and they will—they are adequately prepared,” Sarafin concludes. Of his local Arizona high school, Sarafin says “I went to school at Highland High, and it is definitely not the most diverse school. It’s probably 80 percent Mormon and 80 percent Caucasian. So there is definitely a disparity there in the types of people that you meet. I know a lot of times a lot of people who were bullied because they were different were actually bullied by athletes, and that made me really angry … the athletes are supposed to be the role models, the heroes of the community ...,” Sarafin waxes. Of his own coming out, Sarafin began telling his teammates last spring. “It was really personal to me, and it benefitted my peace of mind greatly.” Sarafin says that he told his teammates mostly for himself and because he wanted them to hear it straight from him instead of the college rumor mill that all players find themselves subjected to at some point. The Sun Devil has greater aspirations than football, however. “My ultimate goal after I get my master’s is to eventually become a neurologist … I wish ASU had a neurology school!” Sarafin says through a grin. As for Sarafin’s heroes, former Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner tops the list. “He is my ultimate icon … a great family man, the types of things he has done for the community are incredible.” As for role models, Sarafin himself makes a great example. “Someone who gives back to everyone, and loves his family … that is the type of man I want to be.”
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