Calling a Player Injury Prone Is Inaccurate
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsI was provided the opportunity to touch on this topic in regard to Twins’ center fielder Byron Buxton when Thieres Rabelo of @TwinsBrasil and the new blog Twinternationals with Mariana Guzman. Here's a link to his piece on Buxton.
Here’s what I wrote in part:
The 2020 season figures to be a big one for Byron Buxton; the speedy centerfielder is currently on track in his recovery from late season surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Buxton has had to battle a number of injuries over his young career, causing some to label him as injury-prone, however, none of his previous injuries have much in common.
Over the course of his career, Buxton has been placed on the injured list for a sprained left thumb, a migraine, a fractured left big toe, a left wrist strain, a left groin strain, a right wrist bruise, a concussion, and the aforementioned labrum tear that occurred because of a left shoulder subluxation. These are not chronic injuries that could have been prevented through strengthening of his rotator cuff muscles or by maintaining good joint flexibility. Groin and wrist strains are common amongst baseball players and many of Buxton’s other injuries were caused by acute events such as sliding into a base, crashing into a wall, or getting hit by a pitch.
(Buxton has recently resumed swinging and will likely be ready to return to game action by opening day.)
It is difficult for an athlete to shed the term once he is labeled injury-prone; the label takes a complex, multifactorial event — getting injured — and boils it down into a term that infers simplicity, and perhaps laziness or weakness of character. It is a term that serves to distance the human from the athlete.
As outlined above, Buxton has suffered a number of injuries ever since he took his first swings in the minor leagues, however, none of his injuries have any connection to the others. They are all, in essence, freak events. This is, of course, the case with many athletic injuries, but whether or not an athlete suffers multiple hamstring strains or a rash of separate injuries such as Buxton, the injury-prone label appears and attaches itself as if it were the athlete’s shadow.
A number of factors contribute to injury occurrence including muscle strength imbalance, chronic overuse, acute impacts, bad luck, and genetics. Some of these factors can be addressed through training and rehabilitation — muscle strength imbalance — however, often the most powerful ones cannot (genetics, bad luck).
It is one thing to discuss the role that an athlete’s injuries have on his/her overall ability to contribute to their team, it is another thing entirely to belittle a player due to their past injury history.
“Byron Buxton has suffered a number of injuries throughout his career, so that may impact his ability to contribute to the Twins moving forward” is a perfectly logical thought process; “The Twins shouldn’t extend Buxton because he’s injury-prone,” or “Buxton should be traded for a starting pitcher because he’s injury-prone” is reductive. This line of thought is perhaps only one standard deviation away from the thought process that the Boston Red Sox employed during their nixed trade to acquire Brusdar Graterol.
So consider this my plea to stop the use of the term injury-prone and have a more nuanced conversation when it comes to athletic injuries. The athletes are in the public eye and billions of dollars are at stake, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t human. The label injury-prone is a reductive term that can ultimately have a negative impact on their career.
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