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Sports Talk: Injuries are part of the game

Football practice is barely underway for our favorite high school and college teams and the injuries are already starting to mount. Some of them even occurred before the players set foot on a field.

Since the game is football we expect to hear about the routine breaks, sprains and bruises that come with the territory. It's never been uncommon for a football team to lose players for two or three games while they recover, but suddenly we are hearing about a rash of what we might call exotic illnesses striking otherwise perfectly healthy young men.

Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia have lost all conference players in the last couple of years to rare kidney and liver diseases as well as strokes and blood clots. These situations have hit players and often the illness or disease has been discovered through the routine process of an athletic physical. It is amazing how many unusual cases of season and career ending ailments we now hear about among athletes that have not been caused by the contact of their sport.

Fortunately, the physicals that athletes now receive are more than just routine, especially at the college level. I can remember my high school physicals used to involve a check of your heart rate and blood pressure and if you were unlucky, a check for a hernia. These days athletic physicals are much more involved. The Georgia High School Association now has mandated an extensive uniform physical that is required statewide of its' member schools.

As fans, we get frustrated very easily when our team loses a player for the season. This frustration is compounded when the injury is not a broken bone or torn ligament. The kid looks otherwise fit as a fiddle when in reality his life could be in danger.

Physicians must err on the side of caution, way on the side of caution. No doctor wants to give permission for a young person to play sports unless they are 100 percent sure he or she is perfectly fit. There is more to life than playing a game that usually won't last beyond the teen years.

These days doctors also have to be more than just a little aware of the possibility of litigation. With lawyers advertising on television for car wreck victims, why not expect those injured in athletics soon to be added to their list of clients. In reality, doctors may feel the risk of being sued is much greater than the risk a kid takes playing football with a disease or injury. Either way, we shouldn't blame a doctor for not wanting that responsibility on his shoulders.

In the old days, which really weren't very long ago, coaches used to say, "There's a difference in being hurt and being injured." It's especially tough for high school coaches to lose kids for the season because they are limited in replacements. Whether the kid gets hurt or injured, the convalescent period is now going to be a long one. The coaches and we fans have no choice but to accept that as a fact of life.

Web posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004

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