Published: September 27, 2007
When Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett stepped on the field for Week 1 of the National Football League season, he understood the possibility that he could be leaving the playing field with an injury. However, he and the fans who watched that Buffalo Bills/Denver Broncos game could not have anticipated the potentially paralyzing spinal injuries Everett suffered from the second-half kickoff when he was tackled by Denver Broncos’ Domenik Hixon.
The life-altering injuries suffered by Everett were rare in occurrence and severity. However, Everett’s injuries bring attention to the rise in the number of injuries sustained in today’s sports.
According to the The Washington Post, in the most recent study conducted by the NFL on concussions, between the years of 1996 and 2001, there was an average of eight concussions a week. In the last few years, the severity of these concussions has knocked once-prominent NFL superstars into premature retirement.
One prime example is former New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, who saw his nine-year career end in 2005 as a result of frequent concussions sustained throughout his career. In February 2007, Johnson told the The New York Times that he suffers from frequent headaches and an amphetamines addiction related to post-concussion syndrome.
The increased severity of concussions is also cause for concern outside of the professional level. According to research done by the The New York Times, at least 50 high school or younger players since 1997 have died or have suffered serious head injuries on the football field. These injuries are only likely to continue, as Springfield, Ill. high-school player Kelby Jasmon told the The New York Times, the football mentality urges a player to “sacrifice for the sake of the team. The only way I come out is on a stretcher.”
As concussions dominate the NFL, in Major League Baseball, Tommy John surgery has become almost a rite of passage for pitchers. This season alone, pitchers Brendan Donnelly of the Boston Red Sox, Carl Pavano of the New York Yankees and Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins joined a long list of Tommy John surgery recipients, for whom the rehabilitation and recovery time takes from 12 to 18 months.
From the time the surgery was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on former major league pitcher Tommy John’s elbow in 1974, the number of both old and young pitchers receiving the surgery has grown tremendously. According to a The New York Times interview, Jobe estimates that the number of times the surgery has been performed is “way in the thousands.”
As the pressures of making the major leagues intensifies within every minor league organization, the amount of stress put on young prospects’ arms increases with every pitch. Greater physical stress brings about a higher risk of injury, especially in the ligaments of the elbow. The New York Yankees quickly found that out this year, as young minor league prospects J. Brent Cox, Humberto Sanchez, Christian Garcia and first-round draft pick Andrew Brackman all underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the damage on their elbows.
Before the start of the 2007 season, the NFL issued a suggestion— and has yet to make this a rule—to its teams to protect players from potentially injuring themselves further. If a player gets a concussion at any point in practice or a game, the NFL recommends that he should not return to the practice or the game in which the player was injured. The league hopes that this course of action will lessen the number of concussions players sustain, as well as decrease the effects and after-effects of them when they do.
Though the MLB has yet to do anything directly to prevent elbow injuries, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Mike Marshall is developing new ways and techniques on how to pitch that will reduce the stress on the throwing elbow.
Both the NFL and the MLB are moving in the right direction in order to protect their investments in their athletes. The decisions the organizations make now and in the future will determine not only how their athletes perform on the field, but how upcoming athletes can prevent injuries in the future.