Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been in the news lately for suffering what was later to be discovered as a gruesome leg injury. Initially, reports were slow to come out, which seemed odd, as usually speculation of an ACL tear or something similar will be reported. This time? Nothing.
What happened to Bridgewater happened to be far worse; the news only growing more alarming as news continued to be disseminated. The third-year quarterback out of Louisville not only tore his ACL and dislocated his knee, but almost lost his leg. The medical staff acted swiftly and decisively, and according to multiple reports, may have saved his leg from being amputated. To add insult to injury (literally), Vikings players grew ill by the mere sight of the fallen QB’s leg, and the Vikings cancelled practice.
As unprecedented as an injury like this may sound, it’s surprisingly common. Kevin Ware (also of Louisville) while playing in a March Madness game for the school’s hoops team, suffered a compound fracture of his tibia from jumping to block a shot. The nature of Ware’s injury confounded people; it was a non-contact injury.
Some may say, well, Bridgewater just tore his ACl, that’s not the same injury. OK. Per Will Carroll:
You may remember Paul George nearly lost his leg after colliding with a stanchion on a fast break two summers ago while playing for Team USA. George has since made a full recovery. Ware tried to play again at Louisville, but was never the same. His career was over. So you have two similar injuries and two drastically different recoveries. This is unfortunately the murky world that awaits Bridgewater, where people like George can flourish again while former stars like South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore are relegated to a new career path.
But forget the scenarios for a little. No one knows what will become of Bridgewater’s career, a success story you’d hope. What’s overtaking my thought process, and does every time one of these injuries occurs, is why are these injuries so common? First let’s get some things out of the way. In no way am I comparing an ACL tear to shattering your leg. Both have their own theories. Tearing an ACL in college and the NFL, I would imagine, has a lot to do with the nature of the game. Sprinting and stopping on a dime, making decisive, lateral cuts at full speed. How many times have you heard of a guy tearing his ACL simply by getting his foot caught in the turf while attempting to break out of a cut? I still remember Wes Welker’s.
If there’s a reason why college football and NFL players tear their ACL at such staggering rates in comparison to athletes of other sports, can there then be such an explanation for why pro athletes at large can suffer such serious, and at times, life-altering injuries without contact? In Kevin Ware’s case, doctors agreed: His injury was more consistent with a horrible car crash than a contested jump shot.
Ware’s injury was the first to make me consider something that PG13 (yes, I realize there was contact), and ultimately, Bridgewater’s leg shattering trauma brought to the forefront. Is there a physiological reason why pro athletes are more susceptible to having their joints fail them? My theory from watching Ware is still the one that I employ today: That the constant stress and pounding athletes’ joints take on a day-to-day basis between workouts and games, leaves them more vulnerable to be injured in such a gruesome way.
I may not be a doctor, but snapping a leg without contact would seem to indicate that the area has been prone to undue stress and that it was a ticking time bomb. The fact that basketball players suffer nowhere near as many ACL injuries but have two such cases of shattered legs indicate (at least to me) that the unnatural and excessive leaping required in a basketball game or practice would take a toll on someone’s legs. What’s a basketball player’s most common injury? Sure ther are plenty of guys with ailing backs and shoulders, but the vast majority have knee and ankle injuries, bone spurs. Joint issues. While being forced to workout ever day and strengthen muscles, and maintain great cardiovascular shape are all perks of the trade, dunking 50 times a day for 20 years will probably fuck up your knees.
Let’s not forget that many of these athletes, football players in particular, are squatting and deadlifting over 600 pounds. I understand the point of these exercises; to make you stronger. I did them myself. And while I’m sure pro athletes do these exercises with proper form, it becomes tough not to wonder whether it’s helping them as much as they think. That’s a lot of stress to put on your joints (sensing a theme) and although any strength coach would tell me I’m nuts, I’m curious if lifting that much weight that often can have as many negative side effects as positive ones.
It paints a mysterious picture. Finely-tuned world-class athletes tearing ACL’s at an ever-growing pace, and suffering gruesome, compound fractures at an equally scary rate. What are the variables? Pro athletes today lifting too young while their bones are still developing? The wear and tear of a pro athlete’s daily grind, both in-season and out, bringing them to a standstill? There certainly aren’t enough statistics and research yet, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.