15 January 2013

Health Over Heroics

A good thing for kids may be a bad thing for hero worship. Thus the paradox of Dr. James Andrews’ Any Given Monday. His goal to curb injuries among the youngest athletes could have the unintended consequence of reducing (some, maybe many of) those vivid moments retold in sports books where the professional hero has worked so hard to overcome a (possibly completely avoidable) physical limitation.

Admittedly, the bigger picture is more important. So, in no way does JBR recommend people ignore the advice of the “father of modern sports medicine” (the real one, not the parody) along the commonsensible lines such as don't have kid train solely for one sport 10-12 months a year; don't have pitchers overthrow; don't let little kids use their heads as weapons or targets in soccer, football or boxing; allow kids to be hurt not heroes playing through pain.

Still, everyone taking care of the health of young athletes will mean fewer and probably less severe injuries as adults, pro (it’s not as if an NFL concussion is the first time a hulking brute has had his head brutalized). The loss will be that kids and pros won’t be able to celebrate on the page their Willis Reed moment, where they risk their health forever in exchange for one, possible, timeless literary trope. There will still be big plays to celebrate, but the backstory may not be quite as dramatic.

Fortunately for those who care more for hero worship than health,  Andrews is not fully sanguine about the effect of the book: "We're not gonna change it all at once," he said. "I've been working on this for 10 years, and we probably haven't made a dent in it. But the book is just another way of getting the message out."

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