The crowd roars as the ball is snapped. The quarterback drops back, he can’t find an open receiver, he runs out of the pocket, scrambling to make a play, a linebacker comes from the left and tackles the QB. The QB is down and grabbing his knee. Within 15 seconds his season is over.
Every NFL Sunday seems to have a game with an athlete ending their season due to an ACL tear. It’s an all too common injury that seems to be on the rise.
The NFL started a movement a few years ago to try and prevent some injuries from occurring. They have started fining players for hitting too high in hopes to eliminate concussions. Players are now forced to hit lower so no helmet-to-helmet hits happen. A rule Washington safety Brandon Meriweather knows all to well. He was suspended during the 2013 season as punishment for hitting too high. He says the consequences of the NFL’s rule changes are forcing him to change his form.
[pullquote]“To be honest, man, you’ve just got to go low now. You’ve got to end people’s careers, you know? You’ve got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees now. You can’t hit them high no more. You’ve just got to go low.” Meriweather said in an interview last season.[/pullquote]
The scary reality that players have this mentality when taking the field is becoming common. While ACL tears are not a new injury, there does seem to be a correlation between the rule changes and the number of ACL tears the NFL has seen in the past two seasons.
The NFL has set an example for all levels of the sport, trickling down to the colligate, high school and even peewee levels. NFL players aren’t the only one’s to experience the trauma of an ACL tear. It’s a long road to get back to field and some never make it back.
Nick McIntyre’s football career ended for him his senior season of high school. His ACL was torn during the last game of his career.
“I remember a helmet hitting my knee and being on the ground. “ McIntyre said of his accident. The grueling healing process took him nine months. “If I wanted to play college ball, it would have effected me continuing my career. I don’t think I would have been able to move on to that level. “
The rules have changed since his playing days and he believes some knee injuries could be a direct result of the new rule changes. McIntyre says “I think it’s very probable that because players can’t hit high anymore that more and more players are getting ACL injuries.”
Contact sports come with injuries no matter what and the healing process can take a toll on athletes. This is a problem rehab specialist Stephanie Knox sees daily. Her daily routine at Illinois Bone and Joint Institute revolves around helping athletes get back to the field after an ACL/MCL injury.
“It’s really about working with athletes to strengthen the injured leg. The healing process makes the athlete loose muscle and strength in the injured leg and it’s my job to get them back to where they were pre-injury.” Knox said.
She teaches a class for athletes at the tail end of their injuries. Once they’ve completed physical therapy they go to her class to relearn mechanics. She teaches them how to prevent the injury from reoccurring so they can continue their careers.
“Each athletes healing process is different, but with ACL tears in can take anywhere from nine to twelve months to heal. “
She says she doesn’t believe football players hitting lower is the cause of ACL tears.
“Injuries happen all the time, while it might be the case for some players, I don’t think the rule changes cause more ACL tears to happen.”
Leo Meagher was 17 when his ACL was torn during a scrimmage. [pullquote]“I remember the ball being snapped and I was handed the ball and a defenseman crashed into my knee. It was horrible. I knew my season was over.” [/pullquote] Meagher said.
He says he thinks the rule changes to prevent concussions are a good thing but it is causing other injuries to be on the rise.
“You’re substituting one injury for another.” Meagher said. “I’d rather have my knee blown out than to deal with some of the life long issues players with multiple concussions have had.”
Injuries are apart of the world of football and will continue to be as long as the sport exists. But for some players the world as they know it can end at the snap of a ball.