Injured Players Are Not Just Chess Pieces

August 10th, 2020

By Eli Elstein

Kelvin Harmon, a 2nd year Washington Football Team wide receiver out of North Carolina State, recently tore his ACL in preparations for what will hopefully be a 2020 NFL season. His injury, along with fellow Washington wide receiver Cody Latimer’s suspension, provides ample ammunition to the claim that Washington’s receiving corps is the worst in the league. An insult to breakout star Terry Mclaurin, but an easy argument nonetheless. Behind Mclaurin is another youngster with a lot of upside in slot receiver Steven Sims Jr., but starting three 2nd year players at wide receiver was already questionable for a team that wants to compete in light of its recent bad press (see our blog posts about the Washington Football Team name debacle). Some might argue it is a good idea to bring in easily the best free agent out there talent-wise, but a huge asterisk in every other category, in Antonio Brown. I don’t think Washington will bring him in because new head coach Ron Rivera most likely wants to create a drama-free environment in the locker room.

But, wait. We’ve breezed past Kelvin Harmon. ACL injuries are serious. This kid is 22. Yes, knee injuries are ‘easier’ to come back from now since the surgeries have become more successful and the rehabilitation seems to involve a lot of fancy new techniques that only friend-of-the-show and future-physical-therapist Matt Norfolk would understand. This doesn’t mean it’s actually easy, however.

Adrian Peterson famously tore his ACL and MCL in December of 2011 before recovering, rehabilitating, getting football ready, and putting in work with his team before the next season started. Not only that, he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012 which is 8 yards away from the single season rushing record! There’s a reason we call this crazy, because it’s crazy! 

Beyond the future hall-of-famer’s unique and inhuman recovery, football players are built for recovering from injuries more than the average person. They already have great workout routines and a lot of resources non-athletes don’t have, as well as more control over their bodies than most people do. But this doesn’t  mean they don’t feel pain, and it doesn’t mean they don’t have to put an enormous amount of work to walk again, let alone play the sport that is their job.

For the sake of not making football super depressing, announcers and reporters discuss the adjustments teams will have to make to win games after players are injured. To their credit, they do often highlight recovery and struggles, even having the Comeback Player of the Year Award often given to a player who was injured the previous year. But the average person will see the injury, feel sad, and then adjust their fantasy football lineup.

Injuries aren’t always that gruesome, as many players battle hamstring issues, foot and hand injuries, or even other illnesses during seasons and yet are still bombarded with hate because they didn’t perform as well as they usually do or even sat out a game. But fans need to understand that at the end of the day, the people on their screens are people too. They have families, they have jobs to do, and they are in a lot of physical and emotional pain. Before moving on from a career-ending injury an overlooked rookie gets, or even a minor cold a super star gets, take time to understand how it will affect them. There will always be a backup player ready to take their place on the field or in your fantasy lineup, but there will never be another person quite like them. My favorite saying from sports is “any given Sunday,” an NFL declaration that reminds us all that the game is played for 60 minutes between two goalposts, not on paper in meeting rooms. The opposite, then, is true of these players’ lives. They exist as individuals long after the game ends, no matter who wins or loses. The next time you see a player get injured, maybe send them some encouragement, because when the lights go out in the stadium, the players have to pick themselves up and go back to their lives just like you. 

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