Rethinking injuries in sports

Injuries are a sad reality of sports. As athletes, even amateur ones, we know they’re coming and we just hope they’re not too painful or debilitating. As fans, we are transfixed at the edge of our seats whenever someone on the teams we root for goes down in a clump, grabbing their ankle or knee. As fantasy sports owners, we’re a step removed from the injuries and they transform into simple tactical obstacles that need to be overcome. 

One of my favorite parts of writing Dear Sports Fan is reading other great writers cover sports in a way that’s accessible and compelling for the whole spectrum from super-fans to lay people. Here are selections from the best articles of the last week on the subject of injuries:

This article subverts everything we think about athletic injuries by focusing on the organ donor whose tendon was put into NFL quarterback Carson Palmer’s knee in 2005 and the emotional impact of this on her family and Palmer himself. It’s a brilliant article not least because of its restatement of the age old grandfather’s ax paradox. Can a donor live on through her donee’s achievements? What happens when her tissue is replaced?

Carson Palmer’s lasting connection

by David Fleming for ESPN

De Rossi’s final gesture of organ and tissue donation would eventually save or improve the lives of more than 50 people. One of them just happened to be a Pro Bowl quarterback in need of a new knee. “A cadaver didn’t save Carson’s career, that was Julie, a person called Julie,” says Dorothy Hyde. “There was absolutely no one else on this planet like her.”

Twenty-two months after she was killed, 
De Rossi’s Achilles tendon became part of Palmer’s knee. Within five months, Palmer was already jogging. He was back under center for the Bengals 2006 season opener without missing a single game. “It’s a little eerie, but it’s also pretty amazing,” Palmer said in an interview just two days before he re-tore his ACL. “Dorothy’s daughter lives on; a part of her is still moving and running and cutting. All the things my knee is doing, she’s doing too.”

His latest injury has severed his physical link to De Rossi… Yet the deeper connection between Palmer and De Rossi remains intact. Shortly after learning about Julie while recuperating from his 2006 surgery in California, Palmer asked his wife, Shaelyn, to drive him to the DMV. Eight years later, when he reported to a hospital for his latest surgery, he would have been asked to provide identification and any pertinent medical information. Palmer would have reflexively reached into his wallet, pulled out his driver’s license and handed it to a hospital administrator.

On the lower-left-hand corner of the ID, just next to Palmer’s smiling, tan face, is a tiny dark-pink circle with a single word written in small, thick black letters.


Questionable to Start is a great blog I discovered this week on my voyages around the internet. Its creator started with a simple observation that mainstream media’s reporting on injuries in the NFL was not based on historic data. So, he decided to collect the data, build a database, and now he writes about NFL injuries from an informed perspective unavailable to most. This article is a response to some criticism for a debunking statement Questionable to Start made about quarterback Nick Foles’ broken collar-bone — a debunking statement that turned out to have been correct. 

Are all injuries really different?

by Craig Zumsteg for his blog Questionable to Start

Yes, all injuries are absolutely different. While two players might both have collarbone fractures, those fractures are often in different locations. Different levels of stress and mechanics caused those two injuries, so the extent of the injury is usually different as well. Different players heal and respond to treatment in different ways.

I have examples of two recent quarterbacks who suffered fractures to their left, non-throwing, collarbone. One returned after missing seven weeks. The other was close to returning around eight weeks, then suffered a setback and ended up missing the ten games before the season was over. Yes, I admit this is a dangerously small sample size.

With those two examples in mind, something rings false about any estimate that includes four weeks as a possibility. Yes, I guess that’s physically and medically possible, but it is not something we’ve seen from a quarterback… In order for me to believe that a four-week return is possible for Foles, I would like to understand the specifics of his injury. Why is Foles injury half as crippling as the ones Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo suffered? It is entirely possible that Foles has a smaller fracture. Or that his fracture is at a location more likely to heal quickly. Or some combo of the two. But, without those specific details, I think that a historical comparison approach is the best tool we have available.

What is we could prevent injuries before they happened? We would have fewer beautiful stories like our first story today and less need for intelligent statistical coverage of injuries like in our second. Still, I think we can all agree that fewer injuries is a good thing. This article is about a revolutionary attempt to prevent injuries in downhill skiing — one of the most dangerous sports out there.

Airbag System Approved for World Cup Ski Races

by the Associated Press in The New York Times

Perhaps if Lindsey Vonn had a big cushy air bag to fall on when she tore two ligaments in her right knee she wouldn’t have missed the Sochi Olympics… Looking back, it’s nearly impossible to calculate what effect — if any — an air bag would have had in those crashes. But with a radical air bag system being approved for use in World Cup and lower level races beginning in January, Alpine skiing could get a lot safer.

The system — which entails putting an air bag in the neck area of athletes’ back protectors — was developed by Italian manufacturer Dainese in coordination with the FIS. It inflates when skiers lose control and are about to crash.

2 thoughts on “Rethinking injuries in sports”

  1. I found interesting the third article about using airbags attached to back protectors for skiers. Maybe they can invent something like that for bicycle racers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *