Where to draw the line
In Sports on April 15, 2012 at 3:15 am
A most unfortunate event occurred on March 22nd; Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, suffered an open ankle dislocation while jumping on a trampoline with his young son. This is a seriously gruesome injury… perform a Google image search at your own risk. Anyway, Chamberlain is expected to miss significant time this season as he recovers. His is one of countless injuries suffered by athletes who were performing various activities outside of their sports. Obviously, Joba’s was more of a freak accident than something that should be criticized, and I don’t think the Yankees could chastise him in good conscience for being irresponsible in this situation. However, what happens when this is not the case? We have many examples of athletes who have been hurt in much more dubious manners. A few of them:
- Kellen Winslow Jr. suffered a torn ACL in a motorcycle accident in 2005, despite being contractually obligated to avoid riding motorcycles.
- Ben Roethlisberger was also injured in a motorcycle accident in 2006, breaking his jaw and nose, lacerating his head, and losing or chipping numerous teeth. He was not wearing a helmet.
- Plaxico Burress receives my personal Darwin Award, for shooting himself in the leg in a nightclub in 2008 with a Glock that was tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants.
The teams who employed these players had every right to discipline them for their appalling decision making. But not every case is so head-scratching. Where does a team’s right to dictate their athletes’ decisions end? I’ll never forget a horrifying moment that occurred my sophomore year of college that made me question this. A bunch of guys in my dorm were playing pickup basketball, and Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate joined us. About halfway through the game, on one of his freakishly quick drives to the hole, he hit a wet spot on the floor and went down HARD. Every person there froze… and just looked at each other terrified. We thought we had witnessed ESPN’s top story of the night – “Notre Dame’s leading wide receiver tears ACL – out for 6-8 months.” Fortunately, Golden’s fall wasn’t as bad as it looked, and he got up and walked it off.
My fear in that horrifying moment was two-fold; not only was I worried for ND’s football team, but also for Golden. I knew the entire football team was forbidden to be playing basketball at that point in the year, and that he might encounter serious trouble if he got injured doing so. But is that even right? I understand banning motorcycle riding or other inherently hazardous activities, but telling an athlete he cannot even play pickup basketball? That seems to cross the line. Injuries do occur in basketball… but they also occur on bikes. Or riding in cars. Or while sneezing
Teams, I think you need to chill out. Sure, demand responsibility from your athletes, and require them to act in a way befitting of the millions they’re making. But you cannot control their lives. Realize that freak accidents are a part of life, and at the end of the day, your players deserve to be able to live their lives without having to walk on eggshells, no matter how much you’re paying them. If a little bit of moisture on a basketball court can cause Golden Tate to face serious consequences, then something’s wrong. Let the boys play – you don’t own them.