While it is clear that some players just can't seem to be on the football field without getting injured, the problem is how do we classify what players are injury-prone from the players that just seem to be unlucky? They may get injured a few times in a short period of time and then they may never get injured again.
To get right to the crux of the dilemma, of just who is susceptible to being injured, it is the players who physically do not have the type of body to deal with the repetitive activities that occur on a football field, basketball court or some other field of play. These players will continue to get the same or similar type of injury. A player like Matt Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys continued to get the same type of injuries over and over again. Another player that deserves that label could be Brian Orakpo. He keeps getting pectoral injuries.
On the other side of that are all the players that get a lot of different injuries that can be from just random freak things that have nothing to do with their physical make up. These players should not be labeled as injury-prone. It is just not fair to put them in the same category. If you want to call them unlucky, then fine. One of these players is Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys. He has had several injuries but none of them are related to his physique.
Before getting into Lee's injuries, let's discuss a concept related to this subject called "recency bias", also known as the "availability heuristic". The point to come away with from this article would be to understand that except for those players that truly have bodies that cannot handle the rigors of playing pro sports, injuries are typically random.
One of the best articles on this subject talks about the concept of "WYSIATI", or "What you see is all there is". This concept was discussed by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and this is how he described it:
"..humans often make errors in judgments because we only consider the information that we've personally observed. But often the evidence that we've observed isn't all the evidence that there is. Kahneman's concept of WYSIATI is thick in discussions of injury proneness. One of the most common things that happen in discussions of injury proneness is that only a player's NFL injuries are taken into account.
Fantasy football owners who don't follow college football haven't seen the player's college injuries and thus the player's college injuries may as well not exist. During Adrian Peterson's career at Oklahoma he missed time in four games due to a high ankle sprain. Peterson also missed seven games with a broken collarbone. Peterson's college injuries aren't much different than San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews' injuries. But Mathews has been painted as injury prone while Peterson has avoided that label.
So was Peterson injury prone in college, then cured of his injury proneness in the NFL, and then became afflicted again last year when he tore his ACL? If Peterson's history of injuries in college didn't dictate his injuries during his next 4 NFL seasons, why would we think that Mathews' past injuries would tell us anything about his future tendency to become injured?"
The author also makes good points about Matthew Stafford being once labeled as being injury prone and in this article by Sean Tomlinson, who quotes the same article that I quote, gives some additional ammo to the debate and mentions Tony Romo in the process.
Here are the questions that must be asked when dealing with players that were once thought to be injury prone and then later went on to have very productive careers:
- Was the player all of the sudden cured of his injury-proneness?
- Is he still injury-prone but he just happened to string together a string of consecutive starts without being injured?
- Or was our perception of him wrong to begin with?
Just asking the first question should point to how silly the idea of being injury-prone is unless there is some physical reason that he just doesn't have the body type to handle the rigors of pro sports because the very idea of being "cured" all of the sudden without any seeming reason is good enough to show the fallacy of once being injury prone, but not now.
The author of the article, Frank Dupont, makes other great points about the problems with this concept of being random "injury-prone." For example, he uses a random number generator in Excel to show how small sample numbers can deceive us when it comes to 32 running backs that could get several "hits" by the random number generator that makes it seem as if a player is injury-prone, when in reality he isn't.
Here is another good article about players not being injury prone. Again, we are talking about the second group...the group that just get random injuries and do not have frail bodies or bodies that are somehow not capable of handing the everyday activities like running and dunking in the sport of basketball. We are not talking about the guys that are over seven feet tall and have a physical problem such as Yao Ming where the body was just not meant to take that kind of pounding with that kind of weight on his frame. In these cases the doctors can point to a "reason" for the injuries that is related directly to the physical body defects. If the doctors can't say "this player has a high likelihood that he will get re-injured", then we are being unfair when we label a player injury-prone that has been injured without these defects.
"The term ‘injury prone’ implies that there is nothing that can be done to intervene. No matter the assessment, approach or application of training, the athlete is still going to suffer some form of injury. If the athlete is going to get injured anyways, why have them wasting a scholarship or a roster spot?
Coaches labeling players ‘injury prone’ is a jab at the strength and conditioning coach and their program, and from what I have observed, I agree."
And this quote from that same article:
"You hate to see guys like Robert Griffin III consistently go down with non-contact injuries, but there is no need to label him ‘injury prone’. I would like to see what approach the strength and conditioning coaches have taken in the past and what they will apply to get him back onto the field."
Now to some stats that help understand why Sean Lee is not one of those players that has some defective body that is injury-prone.
Was Sean Lee injured in High School Sports? Definitely not!
"Lee was a multi-sport star at Upper St. Clair High School outside Pittsburgh, he was a three-year starter at point guard in basketball, averaging 21.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists as a senior, and winning a district title. In football, Lee rushed for 1,240 yards and 21 touchdowns while registering 95 tackles and four picks as a safety for an 11-1 squad his senior year. "
What about College? Lee was the starting outside linebacker for the Nittany Lions for two consecutive seasons, the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He was at that time not known as being "injury-prone".
"In his junior year he was 2nd team all Big Ten, finishing second on the team in tackles with 138. He had a season high 17 tackles versus Illinois, and registered more than 10 tackles in all but three games. He also had two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the season."
It wasn't until his 2008 season that he tore his ACL in his right knee, then played most of the 2009 season until he injured his other knee, but once in the Pros, he sat out the 2010 season rehabbing his injured knee. In 2011 he played in 14 games and was outstanding. he did injure his wrist but was still able to play. In 2012 he was limited because of turf toe and in 2013 he had a hamstring and neck injury. None of these injuries was ever caused by some physical limitation. If you watched his latest injury, you might come away with the impression that because of the way that his leg slipped on the grass, the injury may have happened to any linebacker that would have been in that same situation.
So, to sum up, there are players who are injury-prone, but too often we label any player that has "recency bias" to that same label.
I don't believe that any doctor would say that Lee has physical limitations that would make him injury-prone and let's hope that we all try to not use the cliche every time we have some "recency bias" in front of us.