Too often, sports are all about the numbers.
We measure players in terms of their vertical leap, their time in the 40, their bat speed, their sand save percentage, their blocked shots per game.
Can he run, can he hit, can she shoot, can he hit a cross-court winner to win a tiebreaker?
He’s making $8 million, first prize in this tournament is $1 million, he can’t sign with that team because they are a couple of million over the salary cap, that putt just cost him a cool 100 grand.
We, the sporting public, have come to look at these magnificently conditioned, highly skilled athletes and all we see are numbers.
And then comes a moment like the one that occurred Sunday afternoon in the Louisville-Duke NCAA Regional Finals men’s basketball game that serves to drive home just how human they really are, these athletes we admire and admonish from afar.
You’ve either seen it or, if you are lucky, you have only heard or read about it, but with 6:33 left in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s game, Louisville’s Kevin Ware jumped to challenge a Duke three-point shot.
When he came down, his world was shattered. So, too, was his lower leg, as he suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia.
The sound of the leg breaking was clearly audible above the din of the large crowd. The arena fell silent.
Ware lay on the court, writing in pain. His teammates were in tears, as were Duke’s players and fans in the stands.
Our obsession with numbers blinds us to the fact these people are not some sort of super beings, but are merely strong, fast, adept humans, with the same frailties as the rest of us.
They work to craft themselves into strong, efficient machines. But on occasion, even the best-conditioned bodies break down.
The injury brought to mind the one suffered by Joe Theismann in 1985, when the then-Washington Redskins’ quarterback was sacked by former New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, snapping his right leg.
In 1989, San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Dave Dravecky was on the comeback trail after undergoing radiation and surgery to treat a tumor in a muscle of his pitching arm. He returned to the mound just 10 months after surgery and posted a 4-3 victory.
However, his next start was a different story. As he was delivering a pitch, his humerus, the bone between the shoulder and elbow, snapped in two. Dravecky never pitched again.
I have not seen the Ware injury, and don’t care to. I saw both Theismann’s and Dravecky’s. Those were gruesome enough.
There is no reason to dwell on terrible injuries such as these. Injury is part of every sport. These especially devastating hurts serve to drive home the point these athletes we enjoy watching so much put their bodies, and their futures, on the line every time they engage in their chosen sports.
Kevin Ware is a young man. We pray he is able to someday return to basketball, if he is of a mind to.
In the meantime, his Louisville squad will try to steal the glass slipper from Wichita State’s Cinderella in Saturday’s national semifinal game.
Wichita State’s mantra is “play angry,” but the Cardinals will play inspired by their fallen teammate, and inspiration’s a difficult emotion to overcome.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.