The worst thing in Sports

They say you learn something new every day.

I’m not too sure who “they” exactly are, but today seemingly for the first time in my life I learned something in school that actually made me think a little. All joking aside, as a high school senior battling the dreadful disease known as “senioritis” on the week before Christmas break, sorry “Winter Break” (Public schools am I right?) learning something new this week was not the first thing on my itinerary (Sorry mom, dad, teachers and the colleges I applied to and for that matter, God) but yet it gave me an epiphany-type-moment.

It came around 10:00 AM Central time in my anatomy class. For a kid who plans on being a journalism major in college, anything scientific really isn’t my type of hype but a guest speaker for the period saved me from having to work on a Final, so I’ll take it.

The speaker was Dr. James Elliot, a professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, who has a PhD in Physical Therapy and Human movement sciences. Before I go any further I’d like to state that this is an actual person, not that I’ve been known to make up people in the past or anything.

He was a pretty interesting guy, a Glenbard West grad, he went to school in Australia after spending his high school life like most boys, doing nothing but sitting in the back of a classroom. He played professional ball (That’s baseball, folks) for the Padres before getting injured and as he says, realizing that baseball isn’t a sustainable career for 95% of the guys who play it.

He then went on to talk about a bunch of boring stuff about whiplash and neck movements that only my cousin and newly wedded wife would find interesting (They’re chiropractors). Then came my mini epiphany that required me to actually think.

He was talking about effects of injuries in general that he has come across with patients as well as the recovery process, the most important part of an injury. Being the positive doc he says he is, he always tells patients that they will fully recover and work like normal again.

He then explained how some patients can’t recover or “work like normal again completely” because they have trouble “getting it out of their head.” If you realize where this is headed, then you know the question I asked next. I questioned “How do you help patients deal with making them realize that they can trust their body again?” He gave a super long and scientific word which basically meant, a psychologist. He realized quickly that I was coming from a athlete point of view (must be the PhD that set in) and explained how getting an injury out of your head can be worse than the injury itself. Epiphany? Check.

When it comes to sports, we can be superficial and judgmental (I will be the first to admit) of the athletes that entertain us and also whom many of  us idolize. An injury, whether it may be the worst three letters in sports (ACL) or a sprained ankle, injuries suck at any level, any sport, at anytime.

I read an article by Neal Gabler of Grantland I highly suggest the read on the dynamics of why torn ACL’s are the norm today and why they will continue to be for awhile.

The article also explained the mental side of the injury and while hearing that “pop” when your knee hyper-extends is excruciating (I thankfully have not/yet to experience it) many say it is the mental side of the injury that nearly every athlete has the biggest problem with.

Now back to how we judge and look at professional athletes. These guys/ women are millionaires, the special ones I should say. And when an injury occurs aka Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Rob Gronkowski, Peyton Manning etc. there is the sadness for maybe a few minutes or if your a Chicago fan, that sadness hasn’t stopped in over two years now, and then quickly the question is posed, “When will they be back?”

As people we tend to forget that these athletes are human even if they do un-human things in their respective sports. Yet no one is superman, every man has their kryptonite. And while advances in research and medicine, similar to the ones Dr. Elliot explained to me today, a cure for the psychological pain that burdens these athletes with disastrous types of injuries has no cure. It comeswithin themselves. 

In the article by Gabler, he wrote about Adrian Peterson’s recovery. Peterson is the poster boy of recovery when it comes to ACL tears. After tearing his ACL in week 16 of the 2011 season he seamlessly showed up the next season and came within a few feet of breaking the NFL rushing record and won MVP. That isn’t human. But it talked about how Peterson went to a psychologist during his rehab days to help him cope with the trust factor that guys like Rose had a hard time dealing with. Grabler calls this the “Gremlin.”

According to Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman, Peterson suffered from the “Gremlin” the worst before meeting with psychologists.

Yet every injury has its gremlin. As an athlete you are wired to go 100% every play with absolutely no regard for your body. This factor is a main reason in why they are millionaires and the most known people in the world. But when an injury occurs, we don’t give them the benefit of the doubt and tend to make each and every one of them look as selfish as possible because they are making sure their body is 100% before playing again. We reward a player for playing through an in-game injury yes, although from prior experience, adrenaline doesn’t get the credit it deserves in the regard of ignoring pain.

Derrick Rose will have to face the questions of whether he can still be a superstar in the NBA with two surgically repaired knees

Rose, now on his second knee injury, will face doubts within himself let alone those around him.

and Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski will have to answer similar ones as well. But before you decide to call an athlete “soft” or anything like that, they’re human too and odds are the average Joe like the rest of us will take longer to recover than these guys will.

Dr. James Elliot opened up my eyes today. He made me realize that we should take a step back and realize the brain is a powerful thing and that “Gremlin” voice that you have to deal with during the recovery is a very real thing. Add the pressures and hopes of your city depending on you to bring them a championship, it’s almost too much.

But hey, they make tens of millions of dollars so they can handle it right?


Go ahead, test me...

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