Time to face the painful truth: Sport is ruining our heroes

Sport

Time to face the painful truth: Sport is ruining our heroes

We must see players for what they are: human and deserving of more consideration

Journalist

How many 20-year-olds do you know who have to put their lives on hold for six weeks because of a knee injury? Or 23-year-olds who live for months with a spinal stress problem? Or 25-year-olds who have a shoulder wrenched out of shape?
The subjects of these calamities are not soldiers, bar brawlers or victims of domestic abuse. They are instead Damian Willemse, Kagiso Rabada and Mohamed Salah — stars of rugby, cricket and football, and apparently fine physical specimens of the human race.
Except that they’re not. They’re crocked. And they are far from the only people impaired, often permanently, by what they do for a living.We think sport stars have the best bodies out there. Closer to the truth is that they are rarely free of pain, and that they age faster than we do because they wear themselves out exponentially more quickly.
Dale Steyn’s painful relationship with his right shoulder and left heel for more than two years now proves what doesn’t need proving: sport is bad for you, particularly if you play at the top level.
Stories about injuries are the bane of a sportswriter’s life; right up there with reporting on positive drug tests and trying to make players sound interesting when they say utterly forgettable things, which for almost all of them is almost all of the time.
But they’re paid to play. Not talk. Thing is, it can seem as if they are paid to learn the Latin names of those parts of their bodies that have been wrecked in the cause of trying to win.The exceptionally articulate Steyn is a case in point, what with words like infraspinatus and coracoid tripping off his tongue as readily as bouncer and yorker.
You probably know your yorkers from your bouncers, but did you know the infraspinatus is, according to the medical books, “a thick triangular muscle”, “one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff” and that its major function is to “externally rotate the humerus [the bone that connects shoulder to elbow] and stabilise the shoulder joint”?
Or that the coracoid is “a small hook-like structure on the lateral edge of the superior anterior portion of the scapula [shoulder blade]” so-named because its name translates into “like a raven’s beak” in Greek, and that fracturing it is impressively difficult and unusual?
Steyn knows all that, and much more. Too much for a man of 34. In fast bowler’s years that’s about 68.
Unlike most players Steyn has spoken candidly of his frustration at the healing and rehabilitation process, and of his worry about hurting something else while he works to resolve the original problem.
“I go for a run up the mountain and I could get a hamstring injury,” he said in October, when he was emerging from his second major shoulder injury.
“Or I finally get over all of this and I go and roll my ankle getting out of the car.”Close but not quite: less than three months later a freshly repaired Steyn tore a ligament off his left heel by stepping awkwardly into a foothole while bowling against India in the Newlands Test.   
Square one, here we go again …
More often heard than Steyn’s honesty is the kind of view expressed by boxer Ronda Rousey: “I’ve separated my shoulder and my collarbone; I’ve messed up my knee a million times. I’ve broken my foot in several places. I’ve broken my toe a bunch, broken my nose a couple of times, and had a bunch of other annoying little injuries, like turf toe [spraining the ligaments of the big toe] and arthritis and tendonitis. It’s part of the game.”
If self-harm was a crime you’d have a hard time getting that argument past a judge, and if you think that’s a reach consider that in December 2016 the US Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from former National Football League (NFL) players against a total settlement amount of $1-billion the NFL offered previously concussed players to shut up and go away and take their brain damage with them.A billion dollars sounds decent, but in March the players and the families of those who have died — some of diseases and conditions doctors have blamed on playing gridiron football — went back to court to file charges of fraud against the NFL for allegedly trying to delay payments, sometimes aggressively.
A month later the NFL lawyered up to argue that a special investigator be appointed to stop “widespread fraud from infecting” the settlement plan.
“Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble,” Benjamin Franklin said, and that’s happens almost without fail.
We record and remember players’ performances at length and in detail. But their injuries, the effects of which may linger long after they have graced the arena and entertained us royally, are invariably footnotes in their biographies.
It’s time we saw players for what they are: human before anything else, injuries and all, and deserving of more consideration on that score.
The other score? By comparison it matters nought.

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