by Jacob Pickle
Injuries are a part of sports. Since the beginning of athletics, at whatever point in human history that might have been, there have always been signs of the limitations imposed by the human body.
The anatomical movements and physical stress that all athletic competitions revolve around are intertwined with this, regardless of the endless improvements made in training techniques and medicine.
Still, with the constant ease with which they accomplish such unbelievable physical feats, collegiate and professional athletes are often made out to be more machine than skin and bone.
It’s not until injuries arise to blemish a game or season, as they do without fail, that spectators are reminded of just how vulnerable athletes can be and just how dangerous sports can be.
This being said, fans of any age are likely hard pressed to remember an injury as painfully memorable and distressing as the fractured tibia suffered by Louisville’s Kevin Ware in the first half of Sunday’s NCAA Midwest Regional Final.
First and foremost, Ware is thankfully recovering and doing well. He successfully underwent surgery after the game in which his tibia was reset and a rod was inserted to stabilize the bone. Only hours later that following morning, he was already up and moving around on crutches.
The incident that led to the injury was unlike any other for a multitude of reasons, none of which make watching the replays of it easier (and if you’re lucky enough to have only heard about the play and don’t want to fear leaving the ground for some time, it’s probably best to avoid the graphic footage).
It was shocking not only in that it was one of the most gruesome moments ever witnessed on live national television, but also because it occurred during one of the most innocuous plays in sports.
With his team leading 21-17 over the No. 2 seeded Duke Blue Devils with about six minutes and 30 seconds left in the first half, the sophomore guard noted Duke’s Tyler Thornton spotting up for a three on the right wing in front of the Louisville bench.
As the ball was kicked out to Thornton from the top of the key, Ware sprinted out from his defensive position at the high post and jumped at the Duke player in an attempt to block the shot. Altering his body sideways slightly in the air, he landed with his full body weight on his right leg, causing the lower portion of it to buckle unnaturally.
As Ware slid to a stop on the side of the court and in front of his team’s bench, he lay on his back in agony as his leg dangled in front of him, broken from the middle of the lower shin with a portion of the bone puncturing the skin.
The reactions from those on and around the court were as expressive as they were appropriate. Louisville players in the game at that point dropped to the ground in shock, many of them visibly in tears.
Players on their team bench, who were among those closest to Ware when the injury occurred, all shielded their eyes upon seeing the extent of the injury. Even Louisville coach Rick Pitino, always the image of stoicism on the team’s sideline, was seen wiping tears from his eyes and commented on his reactions to the scene after the game.
“I went over and was going to help him up, and then all of a sudden I saw what it was,” he said. “And I literally almost threw up. And then I just wanted to get a towel to get it over that.”
As the images and the responses in the stadium and around the world have demonstrated, it was an injury incomparable to nearly any seen before.
Such painful moments have certainly occurred under the national spotlight before, with Willis McGahee’s knee injury in the 2002 Division I Football National Championship being one of a handful that come to mind.
Graphic images have also arisen countless times in televised sports over the years, such as when NHL goaltender Clint Marachuk’s carotid artery was severed during a 1989 regular season hockey game.
However, rarely are the two ever seen in such conjunction, with millions of spectators simultaneously bearing witness to such a lurid moment.
One of the few situations comparable to Ware’s is Joe Theismann’s career-ending injury of a similar nature, which occurred during a 1985 “Monday Night Football” game telecast.
As he was sacked by New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, Theismann’s lower leg was struck by Taylor’s knee to the point that it fractured at both his tibia and fibula.
As appalling as the reverse replays were in showing the abnormal positioning between his foot and his upper leg, the image was still shielded by the bodies of other players and the quarterback’s own uniform.
Unfortunately for viewers of the game on Sunday, they were provided little barrier from a vivid view of the injury.
The thing that somehow manages to make Ware’s injury even more disturbing is the nature of the play during which it occurred. It’s one that happens during nearly every possession of a basketball game and is usually one of the most harmless acts in sports.
A player finds himself in space for an open jumper, and an off-ball defender closes in and jumps out to contest the shot.
During the course of a game it happens countless times, and that number only increases for teams that favor defensive zones as much as Louisville.
For those who have ever played the sport in any competitive situation, the fact that such a scarring injury occurred from a mundane play that nearly every player has been a part of made the scene that much harder to take in.
Without question, this was one of the darker moments in the history of televised athletics and one that, unexpectedly and very publicly, demonstrated the potential for athletes to get seriously hurt.
In the same token, however, it was also a moment that brought to light some of the redeeming qualities of sports.
Ware, in the process of being boarded and raised to a stretcher, showed only selfless concern for his team and his teammates, repeatedly telling them “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay. You guys go win this thing.”
The players and coaches of each team, devastated and drained after the 10-minute delay, still managed to find the strength in themselves to come together and finish the game.
Finally in the end, once Louisville prevailed 85-63, they dedicated their victory and their ability to play the remainder of the contest to the words and acts of their injured teammate.
Although moments in sports usually and rightfully pale in comparison to the much larger moments of life, they can often present microcosms of the real world that still have the ability to inspire.
As shown by Kevin Ware and the players, coaches and staff involved with the catastrophic injury that occurred Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, the toughness, courage and selflessness of one person has the power to boundlessly motivate the actions and conduct of others.
As much as the distinct image of Ware’s injury is sure to stick in the minds of people, so too should the strength in his actions and the actions of those around him that followed it.