by Michael Lowrey
Sam Miller of ESPN The Magazine offers up a highly informative look at why Tommy John surgeries are now so very common in baseball. A key point:
What makes an elite athlete now is the willingness to accept injury — sports in the Survivor age. In the recently published book The Fall Line: How American Ski Racers Conquered a Sport on the Edge, Nathaniel Vinton writes that skiers travel at twice the speeds they did a century ago, at tremendous risk. Even the surface is more merciless: “The snow — injected with water, sometimes treated with chemicals — got faster. In order to make firmer guarantees to buyers of broadcast television rights, the sport’s overseers hardened the snow, making it icier and slicker.” Researchers have noted what they call an “epidemic” of ACL injuries among competitive skiers.
The same mentality — get as close to the edge as possible and hope to get lucky — is evident across youth sports. At the University of Kentucky’s department of orthopedic surgery, Dr. Mary Lloyd Ireland sees rapid rises in injuries for youth softball pitchers, especially those playing year-round. The throwing motion puts very little stress on softball pitchers’ elbows — elbow injuries are rare. So instead they’re hurting their knees, back, shoulders. ACL injuries are “epidemic” in girls basketball and soccer, according to a Loyola University research paper. Shoulder injuries for elite swimmers are “approaching epidemic proportions,” according to Swimming World. “The 21st century athlete of any age or sport must throw faster, play harder, earn the scholarship, and don’t tell anybody you’re hurt,” Ireland says. They do this even in sports without financial incentives — athletes pursuing scholarships, not $6 million signing bonuses. Modern athletics are no longer just a test of who is best. They’re a test of who can stay healthy when their sports are trying to break them.