Today’s health and safety news in the world of sports:
* One of the most talked-about health and safety articles this month has been a deeper column by the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard on former NFL linebacker Jason Taylor.
Through Taylor, Le Batard tried to show the lengths NFL players will go to in playing through pain to remain on the field — even when the injuries are on their feet.
He had torn tissues in the bottom of both of them. But he wanted to play. He always wanted to play. So he went to a private room inside the football stadium.
“Like a dungeon,”he says now. “One light bulb swaying back and forth. There was a damp, musty smell. It was like the basement in Pulp Fiction.”
The doctors handed him a towel. For his mouth. To keep him from biting his tongue. And to muffle his screaming.
“It is the worst ever,” he says. “By far. All the nerve endings in your feet.”
That wasn’t the ailment. No, that was the cure. A needle has to go in that foot, and there aren’t a lot of soft, friendly places for a big needle in a foot. That foot pain is there for a reason, of course. It is your body screaming to your brain for help. A warning. The needle mutes the screaming and the warning.
“The first shot is ridiculous,” Taylor says. “Ridiculously horrible. Excruciating.”
But the first shot to the foot wasn’t even the remedy. The first shot was just to numb the area … in preparation for the second shot, which was worse.
“You can’t kill the foot because then it is just a dead nub,” he says. “You’ve got to get the perfect mix (of anesthesia). I was crying and screaming. I’m sweating just speaking about it now.”
Le Batard also used Taylor to show the culture in which players will hide injuries to stay on the field.
Taylor was leg-whipped during a game once in Washington. Happens all the time. Common. He was sore and had a bruise, but the pregame Toradol and the postgame pain medicine and prescribed sleeping pills masked the suffering, so he went to dinner and thought he was fine. Until he couldn’t sleep. And the medication wore off. It was 2 a.m. He noticed that the only time his calf didn’t hurt is when he was walking around his house or standing. So he found a spot that gave him relief on a staircase and fell asleep standing up, leaning against the wall. But as soon as his leg would relax from the sleep, the pain would wake him up again. He called the team trainer and asked if he could take another Vicodin. The trainer said absolutely not. This need to kill the pain is what former No. 1 pick Keith McCants says started a pain-killer addiction that turned to street drugs when the money ran out … and led him to try to hang himself to break the cycle of pain.
The trainer rushed to Taylor’s house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor’s blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he’d fly out in owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he’d have to cut off Taylor’s leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn’t. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.
“I was mad because I had to sit out three weeks,” he says. “I was hot.”
He had seven to nine inches of nerve damage.
* Sports on Earth’s Patrick Hruby reported on the NCAA’s lack of a consistent concussion protocol in football.
While football at every level is struggling with the issue of brain trauma — it’s hardly hyperbole to call it an existential crisis – the college game’s response has been to do … well, not a whole lot. No systemic effort to reduce injury risk. No comprehensive concussion diagnosis and treatment protocol. No serious blueprint from the NCAA, which typically takes a Supreme Soviet-shaming approach to governing amateurism, crafting and enforcing endless, nit-picky rules that cover everything from text messages to high school recruits to permissible bagel toppings, all in the name of protecting athletes.
* Famed sportswriter Frank Deford wrote an opinion piece for National Public Radio on how the love of football could be America’s downfall.
Football teams represent cities and colleges and schools. The people have built great stadiums, and the game is culturally intertwined with our calendar. We don’t go back to college for the college. We go back for a football game, and, yes, we even call that “homecoming.” It would take some unimagined cataclysmic event to take football from us. Concussions for young men are the price of our love for football, as broken hearts are what we pay for young love.
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor