Serious Injuries Impacting Pro Sports
In sports, as in life, unfortunate circumstances are bound to occur. Some are minor: a bruise, a stinger, having the wind knocked out of you. You take a couple plays or a couple minutes off and you get back in the game, your intensity and desire no less sated or quelled by the previous events. Other times, things are a bit more serious: a broken leg, a torn knee ligament, maybe elbow surgery for examples. It costs you significant time, but with rehabilitation and dedication, you can resume your career the next season, and conceivably at the same high level.
Then there are those injuries that are long term, that can span multiple seasons, or in some cases, derail a career, or even an athlete’s life all together. Just this past week, USC running back Stafon Johnson lost his 2009 season, and very nearly his life when he dropped 275 pounds of weight on his throat early last week. Johnson underwent an emergency tracheotomy and re constructive throat surgery last week. He’s expected to not be able to speak for close to six weeks and not play at all again this season. However, given the potential loss of life that a non athlete would have faced from such an incident, perhaps Johnson was fortunate.
So today we’ll take a look at several major injuries that have impacted professional sports and athletes over the past few decades. We’ve seen Jack Youngblood play the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl on a broken leg. Just this past week, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov found he would be out four to five months after having surgery for an ankle tendon that was sliced by teammate Carey Price’s skate. Leodis McKelvin of the Bills had his season come to an abrupt end when he fractured a fibula last week against New Orleans, while Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments.
Now, a look at some more devastating, long lasting injuries, which left impacts far beyond the field:
DARRYL STINGLEY: Stingley was a first round draft choice of the New England Patriots in 1973 and was expected to be a big part of the Patriots offense in the late 70s. In fact, he had just concluded negotiations on a contract extension that was going to make him one of the highest paid receivers in the league. However, fate was about to intervene.
On August 12, 1978, in a pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland Coliseum, Stingley was the victim of a hit by the Raiders’ defensive back Jack Tatum. As Stingley leaped to make a catch, Tatum used his forearm in a head-on collision that knocked Stingley cold. The hit compressed Stingley’s spinal cord, breaking his fourth and fifth vertebrae. Stingley eventually regained limited movement in his right arm, but spent the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.
Stingley and Tatum never reconciled, and in April of 2007, Stingley passed away at the age of 55. His death was attributed to heart disease and pneumonia complicated by quadriplegia.
BILL MASTERTON: Still the only on ice death in the history of the NHL, Masterton was playing for the Minnesota North Stars against the Oakland Seals at the old Met Center in Minneapolis when tragedy struck.
On January 13, 1968, 4 minutes into a game against the Oakland Seals at the Met Center, Bill was checked by Larry Cahan and Ron Harris of Oakland, and fell backwards onto the ice. The force of the back of his head hitting the ice caused much bleeding, and he quickly lost blood. Before he lost consciousness, a teammate who rushed to his aid heard Masterton murmur, “Never again. Never again.” He was seriously injured, sustaining damage to the pons. Doctors were prevented from doing surgery. Two days later, Bill died from what doctors described as a “massive brain injury.”
Masterton’s #19 was retired by the North Stars in 1987. The NHL has enacted the Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best represents dedication, sportsmanship and perseverance.
CLINT MALARCHUK: The infamous moment that Malarchuk is perhaps most known for occurred during a game on March 22, 1989, between the visiting St. Louis Blues and Malarchuk’s Buffalo Sabres. Steve Tuttle of the Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres collided at the mouth of the goal, and Tuttle’s skate caught Malarchuk on the neck, slicing open his interior carotid artery. With pools of blood collecting on the ice, Malarchuk somehow left the ice under his own power with the assistance of his team’s trainer, Jim Pizzutelli. Many spectators were physically sickened by the sight, with seven fainting and two suffering heart attacks while two teammates vomited on the ice.
Malarchuk’s life was saved by Jim Pizzutelli, the team’s trainer and a former army medic who had served in Vietnam. He reached into Malarchuk’s neck and pinched off the bleeding, not letting go until doctors arrived to begin suturing the wound. Still, Malarchuk came within minutes of becoming only the second on-ice fatality in NHL history (the first, and thus far only, was Bill Masterton).
If you wish to see the link, which I was cautioned not to put in due to its graphicness…go here.
Ironically, on February 10, 2008, Florida winger Richard Zednik had his external carotid artery cut by a skate blade of teammate Olli Jokinen, while playing in Buffalo. He underwent emergency surgery that night and lost five units of blood, but came back to play later that season.
JASON KENDALL: In 1999, he suffered a season-ending injury when he dislocated his ankle while running to first base in a July 4 game against Milwaukee. The unusual compound dislocation, which was initially misidentified as a fracture, was one of the most grisly injuries in recent baseball history.
Kendall was trying unsuccessfully to beat out a bunt in the fifth inning when his foot awkwardly struck the side of the first-base bag, rather than the top of the base. He took five or six more strides, then collapsed onto the artificial turf.
He went into shock almost immediately, a piece of his fibula sticking several inches out of his skin. Some teammates on the Pirates bench could not stand to watch, burying their faces in their hands.
DAVE DRAVECKY: After a cancerous desmoid tumor was found in Dravecky’s pitching arm, he underwent surgery on October 7, 1988, removing half of the deltoid muscle in his pitching arm and freezing the humerus bone in an effort to eliminate all of the cancerous cells. By July 1989, he was pitching in the minors, and on August 10, he made a highly publicized return to the major leagues, pitching 8 innings and defeating Cincinnati 4-3. In his following start five days later against the Expos, Dravecky pitched three no-hit innings, but in the fifth inning, he felt a tingling sensation in his arm. In the sixth inning he started off shaky, allowing a home run to the lead off batter and then hitting the second batter. Then, on his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped, ending his career.
To see a pitcher break his arm with a loud cracking sound while doing something as ordinary as throwing a pitch, then fall to the ground rolling in agonizing pain, was shocking, unusual, and upsetting, especially for those who had followed his touching story. The pitch was replayed on television repeatedly over the following days.
The Giants won the National League pennant in 1989, and in the post-game celebration, Dravecky’s arm was broken a second time. A doctor examining Dravecky’s x-rays noticed a mass in his arm. Cancer had returned. Eighteen days later, Dravecky retired from baseball, aged 33, leaving a 64-57 record with 558 strikeouts and a 3.13 ERA in 1,062.2 innings. He won the 1989 Willie Mac Award honoring his spirit and leadership.
On July 18, 1991, after two more surgeries, and more deterioration of the arm, doctors amputated his left arm and shoulder. He has written two books about his battles with cancer and about his comeback: Comeback, published in 1990, and When You Can’t Come Back, published in 1992.
Just keep these things in mind the next time you watch sports. Sure, there are those who are overpaid, overhyped, overdramatic prima donnas. However, they bleed the same way we do, and we feel the same pain they do. It’s not a movie, or anything that is “faked” or “staged.” It’s real life, and as shown by these five, it can be extremely devastating.