For many, the second torn ACL for Sam Bradford will have a great impact on how they will look at the season in terms of wins and losses. Let me focus more on the tremendous sense of loss.
Although I am in the business of trying to help people through difficult times, goodness knows I hear stories almost daily that leave me wondering how I can possibly be helpful. People describe incredibly difficult situations that leave me thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” After what we witnessed Saturday night and then heard about Sunday, I could only imagine what Bradford was going through. But, let’s not forget that this happens all too commonly in football. In the first two preseason games alone, Isaiah Pead and Mason Brodine went down with season-ending knee injuries as well.
In the NFL, it has been said the initials also stand for “Not For Long.” The clock is always ticking on a player’s football life expectancy that, on average, is about two-and-a-half years. You don’t get those years back and, for that matter, there is no guarantee that you get back so much as one more day. These are really young people, almost kids, and that is easy to forget. Most professional athletes are done with their playing careers by the time they are 30 years old, and then they have to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
I see plenty of patients who are dealing with the loss of a job or a career. But, most of them are at least twice as old as these athletes.
Football is one of the sports where we, the spectators, don’t really see the faces behind the face mask and helmets while they compete. Sure, we see them on the sidelines, in interviews and on commercials sans helmets. We see what they are doing on the field of play, but we don’t see what they are feeling. It is easy to think of a player as being more robotic and mechanical than human, like they were figments of our video game imagination. Arguably, the best wide receiver in the game carries the nickname “Megatron.” One of the bright young quarterbacks in the league is referred to as “Superman.” Even one of the top career rushers was known as “The Bus.”
Yet, in an instant, a player’s future both literally and figuratively can change and affect the rest of that player’s life. And that instant can impact the lives of so many, be they players and coaches, family or friends. Similarly, I am often struck by the preparation Olympic athletes endure over years to hopefully qualify and then participate in the Olympics that occur only every four years. Then you hear the stories of the last-second injury, the missed bus to go to the venue, the disqualification for a false start (no five-yard penalty there) or the athlete who is eliminated from competition in just seconds. It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. It’s life.
Football is, pure and simple, a collision sport. Every play involves collisions that are akin to a car wreck at, let’s say, 35 miles per hour. When you add up the 1,982 plays from scrimmage, the 152 punts, the 155 kickoffs and the 228 accepted penalties (OK, I had to throw in some statistical information and, yes, some of the penalties were tacked on the end of plays) from the 2013 season, you basically have an average of roughly 155 plays per game that lead to a multitude of car wrecks every play. Years ago, I worked at a few games (most notably the “Music City Miracle”) helping the sideline reporter. It was amazing to hear the sound of what seemed like a stampede of horses and to feel the earth trembling as a sweep was headed in my general direction. Just think: That happens every single play.
Yes, injuries are a part of the game, and steps are being taken to try to lessen the number and severity of physical injuries. I, for one, hope that the emotional injuries are given equal attention. During the broadcasts of Rams football, I sit between two gentlemen who played the game and certainly endured physical injuries – and Steve and D’Marco seem to still love the game. It’s a tough sport.
The psychiatrist in me really feels for any athlete whose dreams are threatened by the real sense of loss that comes with any injury. Hopefully, each injured player will pace himself in dealing with both the physical and emotional pain that is and will be there. The fan in me will be rooting for Sam Bradford and all of the injured to make a full recovery so that they can try once again to pass, run, catch and simply pursue their dreams.