The NFL Isn't Fantasy: Those Injuries Are the Real Thing

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2015

Bills safety Aaron Williams was carted off the field after attempting to tackle Julian Edelman.
Bills safety Aaron Williams was carted off the field after attempting to tackle Julian Edelman.Associated Press

Look anywhere in the NFL world, and you see gloss. You see shine. You see hype.

During an NFL game, among the many dozens of commercials, there are the beer ads that tell us the world is an awesome place, so go have a beer and smile. Because awesome. Because beer.

Fantasy and gambling are presented as a pleasant fantasy. Only thing missing is a promise that if you set the right lineup, you'll get laid.

There are pools in the stadium used by the Jaguars. Actual damn pools. Nothing represents distance from the violent reality of what happens on a football field quite like going for a swim during a game. What's next? Pedicures in the concourse?

The sports world, the media, the fans—we rarely, if ever, discuss the sport's reality, which is this: No matter how much we gloss, we shine, we hype, it is injuries and pain that remain the central feature of football. No amount of shine or showmanship can erase that fact.

I'm sorry to interrupt the discussion about who you should start at the flex position, but we all need to, on occasion, stop and take stock of what we are actually watching. I don't mean to depress you. No, wait, I do. Because we all need to remember this compelling statistic.

Through two weeks of the NFL season, 15 percent of players have suffered injuries, according to thinkprogress.org. Fifteen percent.

I've talked to people around the sport and asked if this number is unusual or normal, and the answer I get is that it's high. That fact coincides with data from last season, when there were slightly more than 1,300 injuries total.

At the current rate, the league would reach that 1,300 number around the midpoint of the season.

There are many brave men and women who do incredibly dangerous jobs and aren't paid a fraction of what NFL players get. But that doesn't change that number. There are few jobs where 15 percent of the workforce gets hurt—many of the injuries being serious ones—after just two weeks.

While we monitored our fantasy lineups, Bills safety Aaron Williams was immobilized and carted off the field. While we stuffed our faces with wings, Tony Romo broke his collarbone. Dez Bryant broke his foot. Jason Witten played a game with two sprained ankles and a sprained knee. Arian Foster is trying to get back ASAP after ripping his groin off the bone. Victor Cruz is lobbying to get back in, according to NJ.com, after shredding his calf.

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Those are just some of the stars injured. It's two weeks into the season, and there have been so many other concussions and broken bones and torn ACLs.

This is the life they choose, yes. But this article isn't about the players; it's about us. Technology is doing to football, I believe, the same thing it's doing to the rest of society: It's creating distance. When it comes to the NFL, smartphones and fantasy lead us to distance ourselves from what players actually go through on the field.

How many fans knew that before Week 2, players in total suffered 12 concussions, two neck injuries and 40 knee injuries? Very few, probably. Most fans were saying, "Can I put that dude in my lineup yet?"

And we haven't even mentioned that scientists continue to discover that the brain disease CTE is widespread among former NFL players.

Terrell Suggs, Achilles. Jordy Nelson, ACL. Shaun Suisham, ACL.

Some people think Madden is football. Madden is to football what singing in the shower is to being Luther Vandross.

I cover the sport for a living, and even I sometimes forget that these are human beings playing it. Wealthy human beings, for sure, but they are flesh and blood. They are not just variables in our eliminator pools.

Some players have told me there are more injuries than ever before because of new rules that limit practice and time hitting in pads. There's no proof of this, and I don't buy it in any way. I think it's a simple equation: bigger + stronger + faster = harder hits.

The NFL's popularity is unquestioned. Its production is slicker than ever. But also, to me, never have all of us cared so little about what actually happens to the players.

Never before, to me, has football been so...gladiatorial.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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