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Sports' scary side

Devastating injuries, tragic deaths take their toll

Posted: Monday October 17, 2005 1:04PM; Updated: Monday October 17, 2005 1:04PM
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Jake Delhomme
Jake Delhomme was knocked out of this week's game against the Lions, but that's a common occurence on an NFL Sunday.
AP

Thursday morning, one of my friends forwarded me an e-mail without a subject line. I opened it up and the only text inside was a one-word sentence, "Dirty," and a link. So, of course, I clicked on the link, and was sent to a Web site with a picture of Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro. He was making a touchdown catch late in the Tide's upset win over Florida two weeks ago, the ball cradled in his arms, his left ankle unnaturally bent outward at an angle approximating 90 degrees. It was the catch and injury that ended his season.

Then, late Thursday night, I finally got around to watching the Georgia-Tennessee game that I'd DVR'd last weekend. And at some point late in the third quarter, Georgia tight end Leonard Pope ran over Vols cornerback Jason Allen, injuring Allen. It was impossible to see what happened in real time, but during the slow motion instant replay, it was easy to see Allen's left leg jut out in a direction it wasn't supposed to. His hip was dislocated, his season over.

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On that strange insurance commercial he does, Joe Theismann proudly mentions having his ankle snapped by Lawrence Taylor on national television. (L.T., incidentally, is now a spokesman for a football video game which features injuries where X-rays are shown of bones breaking and ligaments snapping.) In Sunday's Panthers-Lions game, Jake Delhomme got planted into the turf and had to stumble off the field. That game wasn't on here in New York, but I saw the replay of the incident four or five times by the time I went to bed. I even saw footage of an NFL umpire spraining his knee after being rolled over during Sunday's Ravens game.

Watching or playing sports, we occasionally see these things happen live. I remember playing pick-up basketball my freshman year at Georgia, and a guy on the opposing team went up for a rebound, came down wrong and landed with his lower leg shaped like the letter "L." Watching a Braves game earlier this season, I saw reliever Jay Powell's arm pretty much explode after he threw a pitch.

Gruesome injuries are a part of sports, just as much as championships and high fives. But why do we like seeing the injuries over and over? Theismann's ankle, Napoleon McCallum's dislocated knee on Monday Night Football, Dave Dravecky's arm ... any time a particularly gross accident occurs, it lives on in infamy, thanks to replays, highlight shows and Web sites dedicated to the horrific. Very few of us saw any of those accidents live, but we've all seen them at one point or another.

To some degree, our fascination with sports and injuries is understandable. In one aspect, it humanizes the heroes, shows that they are only as mortal as the rest of us. There also must be some degree of grim wonder involved, the same thing that makes us watch horror movies or even boxers getting beaten to a pulp. We know it's going to make us cringe, but something about that is exciting, although maybe not in a particularly good way.

Are sports worth the potential for severe injury? Sure, there are millions of dollars involved. But more than that, pride is involved. Nobody wants to finish second, nobody wants to lose. Fans included.

Either way, injuries are a part of sports, always have been, always will be. Death, though, isn't supposed to be.

I was thinking about sports injuries all day Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday morning I heard about the shocking death of Atlanta Hawks center Jason Collier. No apparent warning, like Thomas Herrion just months ago. And then, last night, I went to the Knicks-Mavericks game at Madison Square Garden. Starting at center for the Knicks was Eddy Curry, who has had two heart-related incidents in the past two years and has apparently refused to undergo a DNA test that could clarify whether he's risking his life by continuing to play.

By now, we know that an exciting part of sports is the risk involved. Athletes push their bodies to the limits, and sometimes the limits push back, viciously and violently. Would Michael Vick be a superstar if he couldn't constantly bend his limbs and our minds? It's thrilling for us fans to watch these athletes, all honed and buffed, rampaging their way through fields of other athletes.

Maybe there's no way around it. Maybe we'll continue to see broken arms, legs, maybe even, God forbid, someone die. Again. Death, as with injuries, sometimes doesn't give us warning signs. It's just there, waiting when we least expect to see it. And sometimes even the best athletes can't put on a move or a juke to get by it.

All we ask is that athletes listen to their bodies closer than they listen to our cheers. We like to watch you win, but more than anything, we want to see you live long enough to enjoy it.

Game Of The Week

One of the greatest games in the history of The Links, the classic Funky Truck, has returned. Now, though, it's more like Pimp My Truck. Give it a spin.

Video Of The Week

Last week, I asked for your favorite submissions from Google's cool video playerMario Mazzi found a great set of clips from back when Kobe used to dunk on people.  Martin found a clip of these kids making the marimbas cool. And the greatest video ever produced, sent in by reader Jordan, can be found here. Turn it up! And keep on sending them in.

Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.SLAMonline.com.

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