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Deep Thoughts: arm injuries in Washington

Sep 10, 2012, 11:32 AM EDT

Stephen Strasburg AP

Randomly surfing around the Washington sports pages, I see that Washington Redskins’ center Nick Sundberg broke his arm — clean freaking break of his left arm — yet still played in the Redskins-Saints game yesterday, doing 11 long snaps and blocking all day despite the break.

Contrast this with the Strasburg shutdown over fear of an injury.

No, I’m not THAT dumb. I realize a pitcher’s arm is a lot more critical to his job than a lineman’s forearm is.  But it definitely reminds us about the fungible nature of offensive lineman compared to that of your average baseball player. Let alone your superstar baseball player.

Maybe it’s more about the football player’s toughness. But I steeled on “fungibility” because I wonder what inspires a player to play through a broken arm and a team to allow him to do so, and while toughness is a possibility, I wonder if fear of losing one’s job has a lot to do with it too.  It’s that sort of thing that makes the consequences of what goes on on a football field that much more real and dire in my mind, and I can’t not think about it when I’m watching football.  Which takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it for me, frankly, and is a large part of why I really don’t watch it anymore.

  1. danaking - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:37 AM

    Interesting timing. I have come to feel exactly the same way.

  2. Ben - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    I know i’m going to get massively downrated for this, but I don’t care–I can’t watch football or hockey anymore because they are blood sports that ought to have no place in a civilized society. The head injuries that football players and hockey players are barbaric and permanently debilitating. Yes, head injuries happen in baseball, but they’re terrifying, freakish, and the massive exception, not the norm.

    • brjones9 - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      For the same reasons, I regularly wonder how long it’s going to be until there is a serious push to ban middle and high school football. Are children under 18 legally actively encouraged to do anything else that is anywhere close to as dangerous as playing football? Off the top of my head, I’m having trouble thinking of anything.

      • hittfamily - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:52 PM

        I once heard an interview with Chris Nowitzki, a former Harvard football player and WWF wrestler, who now works with Harvard doctors studying traumatic brain activies. He said “Professional baseball players say that they are adults playing a kid’s game. In football, it is kid’s playing an adults game”. He was referring to the risks that adults might be willing to take, that children never should. My kids are only allowed to play flag football after reading up on it.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        I prefer the old adage that says:

        football is a game of gentlemen played by thugs, and rugby is a game of thugs played by gentlemen

      • kevinbnyc - Sep 10, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        The crazy thing is, incidence of concussions in professional rugby is much lower than in professional football. Players are required to wrap up in the tackle, rather than throwing a shoulder into a guy’s jaw.
        Where’s Kiwi when we need him here?

    • sdelmonte - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      Part of me feels this way. Part of me still appreciates those sports for the athleticism and skill. I would even say that hockey can be played a lot cleaner and still be hockey, though football’s very DNA is violence.

      I didn’t watch much of the pigskin sport yesterday. I could have watched more, and I wonder if maybe I wasn’t in the mood because at some level my distaste has begun to grow.

    • paperlions - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:46 PM

      Where is this civilized society of which you speak? Based on the barbaric practices in business and labor (in which the filthy rich exploit the poor for unneeded financial gain) that are legal, the willful ignorance of millions that are currently enslaved (1000s of which are in the sex trade in the United States) as well as across the board poor treatment of fellow humans (as well as higher beings, such as dogs) and general feeling of aggression and hatred people seem to have for one another… must not live in the same society I do.

      • stex52 - Sep 10, 2012 at 3:25 PM

        He wasn’t necessarily identifying us as civilized. He said they have no place in a civilized society. I’m pretty much on board. This does not completely address your point (God knows you are right about slavery and exploitation), but I think legal liability will limit football in the not too distant future. I also believe (fool that I am) that when the average citizen is presented with incontrovertible evidence, he moves toward greater morality on these issues. I saw a popular report recently saying that 50% of the subjects of a mortality study of England in the 1700’s (might have been early 19th century) died by violence. The numbers are a tiny fraction of that now. We are deeply flawed, but we can improve.

        Personally, I gave up on boxing years ago, and I rarely watch football anymore. And I usually don’t like it when I do. I agree that hockey could be better, but it isn’t as played.

      • paperlions - Sep 10, 2012 at 3:32 PM

        I agree Stex. I still love football, but my consumption is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. My main frustration is that football can be played physically without the players launching like missles at teach each other’s heads. Sadly, all change is slow. For pete’s sake, we still have a majority of the population that sees no reason to worry about pollution if it in any way inconveniences them….it’ll be a sad world they had over to their kids.

    • danaking - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:42 PM

      I’m still a huge hockey fan, though it lives on the edge a bit much sometimes. Here’s how I explained it to my father: When played as they should be, hockey is a rough game; football is violent. In no other sport i know of are players so often encouraged to hurt the other team.

  3. chadjones27 - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    There’s a HUGE difference in the way these two sports treat injuries and the way players feel about “toughness.” MLB instituted the 7 day (I think) concussion DL. There have been MLB players (can’t think of any off the top of my head) who have been on the DL for months due to concussion. In the NFL, they get knocked dizzy, they’re in the next game. And the NFL wonders why their players are going bonkers later in life due to concussions.

    • bsbiz - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:47 AM

      Second baseman from the Orioles missed all of 2011 with a concussion (and most of 2012). Justin Morneau and Denard Span (I’m pretty sure it was Span) last year and 2010 missed major time.

      • bsbiz - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:44 PM

        I thought of his name: Brian Roberts.

        Part of an NFL guy’s willingness to play through a serious injury like that may also have something to do with the fact that NFL contracts are not guaranteed and MLB ones are, leading MLB teams to look into trying to get more out of their investments rather than just cutting a guy and bringing in someone new.

    • CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      Jahvid Best is on line 1. Also, the 7 day DL for concussions makes no sense in a league where the games are 7 days apart.

      I see where you’re going, but you made a horrible argument to get there.

  4. klbader - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Not all offensive linemen are fungible. A long snapper, like this guy apparently, is fungible. A left tackle is not. This guy probably has to play through the pain because he is afraid he will lose his job. He can play through the injury because he doesn’t use that arm at all. Pitchers use almost their entire body to throw. A long snapper can still snap the ball and block without using one of his arms.

    Also, when thinking about Strasburg, you are talking about an elite, possibly all time great, pitcher. These are hard to find. The proper comparison would be to an elite, all time great lineman. When elite linemen play with injuries, it is because even injured, they are better than their backups. That says something about the nature of their jobs — blocking — versus the nature of pitching — throwing a ball.

    • someguyinva - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      Long snappers aren’t nearly as fungible as you might think; a typical NFL team has one guy that can do the job.

      Also, Sundberg (and I’m pretty sure all other long snappers) apparently uses both arms –

      • kopy - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:37 PM

        I was going to point this out. They’re fungible on a week-to-week basis, easy to pick up and cut, but most teams only have one on the roster. Having your normal snapper with a broken arm is probably better than someone healthy trying it out, so they’re not fungible during a game.

  5. bjbeliever - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    baseball and football are not comparable in this sense.. in football the window of opportunity for talented players is so short and there are so many key positions to fill that it becomes live or die on the moment/game/season. Baseball is slower…long term strategy and planning, great players commonly have 10+yr careers, giving teams and players more options available to them come injury time.
    Respect their differences, love them both

    • Old Gator - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM

      There’s also the issue of the guaranteed contract in baseball. A football player who loses his job for the most part really loses it, as in, you get cut, you don’t get paid anymore. The baseball player will collect whatever’s left of what he signed for, The fear factor is considerably more acute in the NFL.

      • natslady - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM

        True. But the fear factor is definitely present for baseball players also. The same mentality that tempts them to PEDs also tempts them to conceal injuries. (I am NOT making PED accusations here). Yesterday I mentioned two Nats relievers (Henry Rodriguez and Sean Burnett) who probably hurt the team by trying to “play through it.” Rodriguez played with bone chips (while being “diagnosed” with confidence issues)–he could have had surgery in May or June and been back for the stretch run and the playoffs. Burnett pitched through various bouts of elbow inflammation (he had TJ several years ago, so not a direct comp to Strasburg), until he blew a couple of saves and Davey noticed him taking treatment. For the first half of the season, Burnett was lights-out as the 8th inning setup man, with a microscopic ERA and walk rate. Now he got sat down (we don’t know for how long) whether he likes it or not.

        Short of MRIs every week for every pitcher on elbows and shoulders (hello, raysfan1!) I don’t know how you solve this.

        I remember when Jason Marquis got hit by a comebacker that broke his leg, but he stayed out there and tried to pitch until he collapsed (BTW, nearly injuring the hitter and his catcher with a wild pitch.) It might be good to automatically remove any pitcher if he gets hit with a comebacker just as a precaution. Don’t leave it to their “judgement.”

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:08 PM

        the most part really loses it, as in, you get cut, you don’t get paid anymore

        Well you get your signing bonus, which is why NFL contracts are worded far differently than MLB ones. It’s also why players tend to hold out/bitch about a new contract every 3-4 years, b/c that’s when their signing bonus has run out and their contracts are de facto at will contracts of their respective teams.

    • danaking - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:43 PM

      True, but the reason football careers are shorter is, the bodies can’t take the beating for as long.

  6. verytalldad - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:54 AM



    • Old Gator - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:03 PM

      That’s the same dick-waving bluster that got us into Iraq, right?

      • natstowngreg - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:16 PM

        Nah, just garden-variety jealousy. The kind you can find anywhere. :)

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Why do you care what other people do to themselves to make a living? It’s weird that you would not be able to watch football because you don’t want to see people who are just making a living. A pretty comfortable living mind you. These guys choose to do this…they aren’t drafted. The minimum they make is more in a year than I make in 5 years. Same thing with Boxing…these guys choose to box. They don’t get drafted.

    Football also has the best gambling and fantasy teams set up. It is clearly, and by far, the #1 sport in America and it will be for at least another decade.

    • natslady - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      Right. And so we go back to the days when hundreds of women died in a factory fire because there were no safety standards?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:41 PM

        Oh yeah…I used to watch the women working in the factory all the time. It was the highlight of my Sunday afternoons. It was also on ESPN Ocho. I believe Howard Cosell used to be the announcer…

        “Look at Mary Jo Soprano weave that skirt…she does it with such dexterity and grace”

        Another crazy point of view…comparing the National Football League to women working in a factory a hundred years ago. Give me a break.

      • natslady - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:10 PM

        So, let me see if I understand your point of view. It’s fine if hundreds of women die in a factory with no fire escapes and locked doors, as long as (a) they’re paid for it and (b) you can gamble on it.

      • Old Gator - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:29 PM

        Sorry, but this virulently leftist guy has to agree with Chris insofar as these football players, black or white or pink with purple polka dots, chose the game and the risks of their own free will. And you really can’t claim that after years of high school and college play they don’t know what those risks are.

        The inequalities of the labor market are real, but faced with them, I’ve met plenty of “formerly poor” black men and women who bit the bullet and got, say, actuarial degrees by starting out at the local community colleges, working their ways through the system and are driving around in Infinities and Lexuses now. And really, when you consider that the number of “poor Black kids” in professional football is so minuscule compared to the extent of the problem out there in the real world, and then throw in the ferocity of the competition for those few positions, you have to regard these kids not as victims in any sense, but as great success stories despite the odds stacked against against them.

        Faced with the same inequalities, plenty of Black kids join the military, which is also arguably a “dangerous” profession, take advantage of educational and career training opportunities offered by it while in service or of veteran’s benefits when they leave, and emerge from their service ready to exploit that job market at a much higher level. The fact that I’m a socialist doesn’t obligate me to blind myself to how such large segments of the African-American community continue to turn to corrupt and manipulative shysters – community and political leaders like, say, an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson – who play on their feelings of persecution while enriching themselves with talk show honorariums and milk the perks of their offices dry.

        That unemployment in the American Black community is so disproportionately high is a complicated phenomenon that transcends the “labor market” and has at least as much if not more to do with culturally conditioned attitudes – and yes, despair is among them – that keep getting transmitted from generation to generation by parents and grandparents who have refused or otherwise take cognizance of economic and especially educational opportunities that are right in front of their noses. Lest you think my view of this is “conservative,” it’s not – I discern very clearly the workings of the capitalist system in whose interest it is to perpetuate those attitudes to ensure itself a continued pool of underpayable labor.

        However, In the meantime, and at base, the issue of choice, of personal decision, remains. Even faced with this corrupt and oligarchic impersonation of democracy, there are still opportunities to advance. One must make choices regardless. The system won’t be changed by culturally and economically conditioned defeatism. If two minority kids go to the same substandard school, and one chooses to give up and hang with the homes and winds up a recidivist low-level criminal, while the other elects to game the system and winds up working for a law firm, a Best Buy, a car dealer or the NFL, which one’s fate are you ready to blame on the labor market?

      • CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:41 PM

        natslady, I think you applied that totally backwards and out of context, but while you’re at it, you missed a couple.

        It has to be on TV too. And there needs to be an official beer sponsor.

      • natslady - Sep 10, 2012 at 6:48 PM

        Gator, a lot of what you say makes sense. People who are “economically challenged” do a lot of dangerous things to get out it, including dealing drugs and joining gangs. I’m waiting for the first rich kid who goes into boxing for the sport of it. Now, maybe there is such a person, but they don’t make movies about him (or her).

        OTOH, there are some children of affluent families who go into baseball, for example, Lucas Giolito–and the sons and grandsons of baseball players. I’d like to ask (seriously, not sarcastically) are there any sons of NFL players who are in the NFL? Do the fathers and mothers of NFL players, good NFL players who made plenty of money in their careers, think it is a good career choice for their sons?

      • CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 10:08 PM

        natslady….all I can say is you clearly don’t follow football. There are as many or more professional football players with family ties to the sport than there are currently in the MLB.

    • Ben - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      Because I don’t want to be ethically implicated in the destruction of peoples’ lives. When a football player sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger because his brain has been totally and completely ravaged by injuries, every football fan is implicated in his death. By continuing to cheer for football, you continue to cheer for brain injuries and ending peoples lives. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s true. You’re supporting the system that makes possible their decline. I’m not interested in being associated with that.

      As for the free-market silliness about the labor market, labor markets are coercive. That’s just how they work. There’s no such thing as a free labor market. There’s a reason why football players tend to be poor and black–because there aren’t other options on the labor market available to them because of the systemic marginalization of poor black men.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:39 PM

        “When a football player sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger because his brain has been totally and completely ravaged by injuries, every football fan is implicated in his death.”

        Oh hogwash!!! Give me a break. Could you get any more liberal? Geeze.

        “There’s a reason why football players tend to be poor and black–because there aren’t other options on the labor market available to them because of the systemic marginalization of poor black men.”

        Double hogwash!!!!! That’s about as racist a statement as you’ll ever see. So the National Football League, where the players make millions, is full of poor black people? Give me a break Ben. Take your left-wing lunacy and stick it. Go watch needlepoint on ESPN The Ocho.

      • Ben - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:51 PM

        No, I couldn’t be any more liberal, probably.

      • Reflex - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        I guess when your argument fails its fair enough to just scream ‘LIBRULLLLLL!”

        And yes, professional athletes in football tend to have a poor background, often but not always black. Many see the NBA and NFL as their only ticket out of a life of poverty, and in some cases that is true. Its sad since given the limited nature of the jobs it is no more likely than a lotto ticket.

        I don’t care for the way pro sports have marketed themselves to the inner cities. I don’t like how there are towns where they care more about how their football team is doing than their academic achievements(go to Texas for a *lot* of this). I do not like how spots has taken over much of academia at the higher levels. Its sad, its counter productive, and it does indeed ruin lives. A lot of lives.

        How many of those college football players make the NFL? How well do you think their ‘sports management’ degrees help them when they don’t?

      • CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:43 PM


        I don’t think that quote (“When a football player sticks a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger because his brain has been totally and completely ravaged by injuries, every football fan is implicated in his death.”) screams liberal.

        It screams idiocy. They’re not mutually inclusive. That said, they’re not mutually exclusive either.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:16 PM

        Reflex, I wonder if you feel the same way about baseball, or if this is only a football thing. Also, read OG’s post above. He says much more eloquently how I feel on the subject. Also, I didn’t just scream liberal…I made my point, then when I was told it is MY FAULT AS A FAN that a professional player kills himself after playing football, well, that’s just too damn liberal for me.

        I wonder if Brandon McCarthy were to have some complications and they told him he couldn’t play baseball anymore and he kills himself, if that would make it YOUR FAULT AS A BASEBALL FAN that he killed himself. That’s just plain lunacy man…liberal lunacy.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:20 PM

      I’m curious, do you not feel even the slightest bit of guilt partaking in a sport that can significantly alter a person’s life, both in the future and in the present? The brain injuries these guys sustain, the debilitating affects of injuries and multiple knee/hip replacements? Or what about spinal cord injuries, like the Tulane player, Devon Walker, who fractured his spine, had to be revived on the field and given a tracheotomy? All of this stuff is a direct consequence of playing football.

      Sure they may make a couple million playing, but how much of that is earmarked for future medical expenses?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        church, it’s not like we are talking about dog fighting or cock fighting, where the participants do not have a say in playing the game. We aren’t talking about the olympic teams of the USSR. We are talking about professional football. I don’t watch college, so I can’t comment on it. But it’s not because I feel bad for them. It’s because it’s boring to me.

        Again…these guys choose to play football and it is ludicrous to blame me for them getting hurt and/or killing themselves after they are done playing. Nobody is making them play.

        Sure, when someone gets hurt I feel bad. But does that mean I should never watch? Of course not. Dude on the A’s just got hit in the head with a ball and needed BRAIN SURGERY a couple days later!!! I didn’t see any of you hardcore HBT’ers talk about not watching baseball anymore.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        I agree, and even though im a filthy liberal, i wont go as far as former president teddy roosevelt and think of outlawing football forever, as i feel adults definitely have a right to do as they please. i just know that i, personally, dont and cant get the same enjoyment out of watching football that i used to.

  8. Tim's Neighbor - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    Having had a broken forearm myself, you’d be surprised that the amount of things you can still do effectively. It hurts like hell immediately, but after that pain only comes from certain movements. Or getting hit. That said, voluntarily doing an activity and then letting someone smash into you does indeed take huge balls.

    • Alex K - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      I bet he gets his treated a lot quicker, however.

  9. thefalcon123 - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Major League Baseball plays 162 games a year, 10 times as many as football and twice as many as basketball and hockey. In football, sitting out four weeks is a quarter of your season, in baseball, it’s about 28 games, leaving you with 134 left to perform.

    If you’re a MLB team and your third baseman has a sore shoulder that is inhibiting his production, do you
    A). Have him play through, producing less and increasing the time it will take for the shoulder to heal and having him return to his normal levels of production
    B). Put him on the disabled list and have him return when completely healthy. This will get him back in the lineup at his normal levels of production quicker.

    It really should be a no-brainer in baseball (this is not to defend the Strasberg shutdown decision, which is about injury *potential* and not something I agree with). It has nothing to do with toughness, it has to do with what is best for you team in the long term.

  10. hpt150 - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    You can’t longsnap without using both arms. Not in a useful manner, anyway.

    • kopy - Sep 10, 2012 at 12:35 PM

      He said that he broke his “guide” arm, and wouldn’t be able to do it if he broke the other. Imagine shooting a basketball with a broken left vs. right arm. One stabilizes the ball, and the other exerts the movement and force.

  11. CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    Craig, the explanation is so obvious, I can’t believe you missed it. It’s fine for the center to play through this so early in the season. He’ll be shut down just in time for the playoff run, around week 15 or 16 and through the post season. No one needs a starting center anyway, there’s 4 other lineman good enough to start to pick up the slack.

    And it’ll be ok because the Redskins are a dynasty because they have RGIII and Alfred Morris and they’re guaranteed to win the whole thing next year. Or something.

    • CJ - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:46 PM

      long snapper….edit!

  12. proudlycanadian - Sep 10, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    Just a broken arm? Maple Leaf defenseman Bobby Baun broke is ankle in game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup final and went out and scored the winning goal in overtime. Inspired by Baun, the Leafs then went out and won game 7.

  13. wethog66 - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Really not understanding the point of this post. You do realize that Sundberg is a long snapper, not just a lineman. The long snapper might seem like an after thought to most fans, but he is a very important player on an NFL team, and usually only one person on an NFL active roster can long snap. Hence why Sundberg played with a broken arm. He was the only one on the friggin roster that could do it, properly. And he isn’t snapping the ball at 95+ miles and hour.

    What a dumb ****ing post.

    • wethog66 - Sep 10, 2012 at 2:28 PM

      Also, Sundberg is now walking around Redskins park with a cast that ends at his bicep. He will not be playing a game again this year until it heals if he isn’t placed on IR.

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