We Need Time to Heal

Why do we rush back into action following injuries?

I felt a crunch in my shoes and knew it was trouble. Last weekend I injured my right index toe while shooting an innocent layup on my community basketball court. Four days later, I’m still not really walking in a fluid and comfortable sense of the word, and I don’t think I even suffered a break.

My own impediment has had me thinking about sports injuries and how players rush back onto the court or field quickly—seemingly to help their team win, satisfy requirements for bonuses in their contracts or just to prove they’re tough. Whatever the reason, returning prematurely to the playing surface is a mistake, and it’s one we don’t highlight enough, at the pro, college or high school levels.

NFL players who suffer concussions, and their quick return to the game, have been in the spotlight for a while now. Everyday conversation on the topic has increased largely due to high-profile injuries including those supposedly not reported by Tom Brady, and the Hollywood movie starring Will Smith as the doctor who fashioned a term for the brain injury that crushes athletes.

But there are much simpler injuries, if you can call them that, that seem they should call for greater rest and recovery, too. In March and April, we watched University of North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II play through pain in both his ankles, eventually leading the Tar Heels to a national championship and earning the Final Four’s most outstanding player honor. On the flip side, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard injured his ankle in game one of May’s NBA Western Conference Finals, and he never returned to play in the series, watching from the bench as his team was swept out of the postseason by the Golden State Warriors.

It’s interesting that Berry played through injury and his team won, while Leonard didn’t play and his team lost. Those instances seem like case studies that would make a team doctor or trainer or coach decide his own leader or star should play despite pain and injury.

As a fan—and as someone dealing with my own injury and pondering the question of when I’m ready to return to physical exercise that won’t earn me any glory—the proposition is disturbing. Is a victory for your team worth the health of one or any of its players? For me, the answer is no. In addition to believing strongly in the necessary protocol for players who suffer concussions in football games and in other sports, I don’t believe anyone on a bum ankle should play again too quickly, no matter the consequences of the score and the season. The possibility of re-injury is too great.

Players, and their teams and fans, should allow more time to heal and not emphasize the crunch of the situation. The future is too important to pressure ourselves, and certainly others, in the moment. I’m certainly not ready to walk again yet myself.

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