Injured players often need to be protected from themselves
Oct 20, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) is taken off the field on a stretcher during the game against the Cleveland Browns in the 4th quarter at Lambeau Field. Image by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Injuries are a part of football. They always have been, and they always will be.
The mere fact that teams have extensive training and medical staffs to tend to injured players is telling enough, concerning the rate of injury in such a violent game.
Adding to that is most NFL stadiums have x-ray machines to instantly identify broken bones. Some stadiums also have MRI machines to quickly diagnose torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The presence of those alone tell you how common some catastrophic some injuries are.
Finally, the practice of TV broadcasts instantly cutting out to commercials during injuries solidifies the commonplace of injuries in football.
Despite recent changes in injury diagnosis and recovery, especially concerning concussions, there is still a lot of machismo in football that necessitates playing hurt and quickly returning.
The presence of smelling salts and high potency pain killers in the athletic trainer’s bag doesn’t help to dissuade this notion.
Playing with club casts on broken hands and forearms is an extreme way to get back on the field before the injuries have fully healed.
With the NFL being a financial enterprise, and playing time often being the basis of contracts, it’s hard to blame players from wanting to get back on the field as quickly as possible.
Players can’t earn their next lucrative extension if they aren’t on the field. Pass rushers can’t earn that bonus for reaching a certain number of quarterback sacks if they aren’t bull rushing. Wide receivers can’t earn a Pro Bowl bonus if they aren’t able to run free to the end zone.
While there are certainly financial incentives to return to the field, one cannot underestimate the pure love of the game. Many players live to play the game. Not being on the field is their equivalent of being a fish out of water.
Cash or love, it appears that those truly motivated players will stop at nothing to return to the field. This is exactly why medical clearance is an independent process from coaches and players.
Packers fans experienced a good dose of this when going through “collarbone watch” during the 2013 season. Despite Aaron Rodgers claiming he felt good enough to play, it took additional weeks for him to gain medical clearance.
Then, during the following 2013 off-season, former Packers free safety Nick Collins tweeted his desire to return to football following a devastating neck injury he suffered in 2011. Sadly, it appears he will never receive permission to return.
Undoubtedly, many Packers fans have been following the Jermichael Finley recovery timeline and his strong desire to return to football after a similar catastrophic neck injury.
If Finley is not cleared to return to football, he stands to gain a $10 million insurance policy. He has repeatedly said his desire to return is about the love for the game and not for a paycheck. There should be news about him soon regarding his chances of returning to football.
Finley’s wife recently tweeted, then quickly deleted, her concerns about Jermichael returning to football.
Recently, Packers fans learned of another career-threatening neck injury suffered by running back Johnathan Franklin. Whether he returns to football is uncertain, but it has already been decided he won’t be playing in Green Bay ever again.
With all injuries, from the most minor of muscle pulls to the very severe concussions, to the extremely delicate neck injuries, the drive to play again runs deep.
Sometimes that drive can blind one from the more important pictures in life, such as long-term health, the ability to walk, and the ability to hold and hug children.
Nothing in life is automatic, promised or given. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
This is exactly why injured and recovering players need to be protected from themselves. By returning from injury too soon, they may further injure themselves and jeopardize their long-term earning potential in the league.
If they return at all, when they should remain retired, they risk long-term health and quality of life.
Medical staffs exist to protect the players and ensure they receive the best treatment and aren’t allowed to harm themselves any further.
There are much bigger things in life than suiting up on Sunday. Sometimes fans, players, and coaches lose sight of this.
That’s why the medical staff doesn’t, no matter how cruel or inconvenient it may seem at times.