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Sports: Injury Time

June 15th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

I suppose this began when I began regularly watching the National Football League, again, for the first time in two decades.

Injuries. Injuries everywhere.

But now, the ugly injuries are by no means concentrated in the realm of football.

They are everywhere. As NBA fans could tell you after Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and Golden State teammate Klay Thompson blew out his knee in Game 6.

I have not done the math … I’m not sure anyone has … but I feel like we are seeing more major injuries in the field of sports than ever before.

I believe one crucial, perhaps overriding consideration is the pace of play.

My belief is that every major sport is calling for more aggression, more exertion, more sprinting, more full-speed contact in every aspect of just about every major sport.

We can start with football. The American version, but the global version, too.

In the NFL, whenever I see players lining up for the kickoff, this goes through my mind: At least one guy out there is going to have his life changed over the next three hours … and not for the better.

In American football collisions are a big part of the game, and those collisions get only more dire as players get bigger and faster. The stat that has been floating around for years goes something like this: The amount of damage done to players in one NFL game is equivalent to being in a 30-miles-per-hour car crash.

Then there is futbol. Not nearly as many collisions, but the Premier League, et al, have embraced crazy strenuous running. Full speed. At all times. For 90 minutes. Even with the new, ultra-controlling nutrition experts trying to design the perfect player while carefully charting how fast and how far players run, it seems to appear that the human body cannot go all out, even with a lot of brief breaks, for 90 minutes. Every season, a significant number of major European soccer games are decided in the final few minutes — when everyone is exhausted.

Soccer also is a game where players make a habit of kicking opponents, knocking them back, knocking them around, beating on ankles and knees, in particular.

Find me a PL team that didn’t have a major injury, requiring surgery that put the player on the shelf for six months (maybe Leicester City in 2016)… and I will show you a team that has essentially won the lottery. At least for one season … and probably never will again. X number of players on every team will have a major knee injury.

Basketball is another major sport that has embraced lung-busting exertion over a long (82 games) regular season, and then as many as 28 more in the playoffs.

After the Toronto Raptors secured the NBA championship last night over an injury-ravaged Warriors club, 112-110, the coach of the dethroned champs, Steve Kerr, seemed to wonder about the connection between “lots and lots of games” and “breakdowns in the playoffs.”

Kerr said “five straight seasons of 100-plus games and all the wear and tear” … perhaps was a significant factor for his team and those crucial, last-week breakdowns.

The National Hockey League … we don’t even need to talk about that other than to acknowledge it features lots and lots of collisions between guys nearly flying down the ice on skates.

Even baseball, old, slow, staid baseball, is seeing players break down.

Ballplayers hurt themselves by trying to do everything too fast and too hard.

The emphasis in ball is for pitchers to throw as hard as they can for as long as they can, without giving a damn about how that will impact them. Pitchers perhaps get hurt a time or three in every season.

Hitters swing for the fences. The idea of putting the ball in play with contact-making swings is way out of fashion. Now, like pitchers, batters give their utmost on every swing. Tremendous torque is created as they launch the latest 400-footer into the stands. No wonder so many players suffer from oblique injuries.

And on the basepaths? Remember when many players, from Joe DiMaggio to Rod Carew, seemed to glide between bases, moving fast, but not risking a muscle tear from an all-out sprint? So 20th century.

Players are encouraged to sprint everywhere, producing muscle tears (Corey Seager this week) and hand injuries incurred while sliding head-first (Mike Trout last year.)

Non-pitchers can pretty much count on several broken fingers or a broken wrist, while batting, and pitchers have to assume they will have major surgery on their pitching arms before they hit age 30.

It is too easy for us to overlook the injuries when watching our favorite players get hurt. They disappear into the clubhouse or locker room and we may not see them for most of a year. The notion of someone else’s pain doesn’t seem to have any hold on us.

Many of these injuries are major, and cost players whole seasons while they go through often difficult and painful rehab. Meanwhile we, as fans, are often mildly annoyed that this or that athlete is taking so long to recover from an injury we no longer remember him having.

Perhaps the scariest part of this? We have been lucky, very lucky, not to see a fatality on the field of play recently. We return to baseball, where a hopped-up ball, hard and heavy, is being hit, routinely, with exit speeds over 100 miles per hour. We can only pray that no pitcher or infielder or fan in the stands sustains a fatal injury, because it feels like one is coming in one of our major sports.

What we need in modern team sports … is to slow things down. Shorten seasons. Cut back on exhibition games. Hand out stiff suspensions for dangerous play. Levy big fines on executives of the most-sanctioned teams. Make the hardball not as hard.

Something tragic is going to happen. Can’t you feel it? And it can’t be far off, now.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David // Jun 15, 2019 at 8:31 PM

    The New York Times had an article on the soccer aspect of this, that the endless growth of various competitions for club and country is taking its toll. I wonder if that isn’t true to some extent in all sports now. NBA players are involved in the Olympics or various international basketball competitions in some summers; MLB has the World Baseball Classic; the NHL has been involved with the Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey. The NFL doesn’t have anything like that, but with all its “off-season” minicamps, it doesn’t provide much prolonged downtime, either.

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