Injured and invisible

Poor Marlin Jackson. Well, not exactly poor Marlin Jackson. He was a first-round draft pick of the Colts and paid accordingly, with $4.35 million guaranteed in a rookie contract worth $7 million. Over the last three years, however, injuries have sealed the fate of Jackson, with Tuesday’s ruptured Achilles inside the Eagles’ indoor practice facility being the third major injury in three years, following ACL tears in both 2008 and 2009.

The Eagles knew the injury risk coming in and protected themselves contractually; it usually is no coincidence that players with recent history of injuries get injured again, usually at different body parts overcompensating for the previous injury.

Invisible players

Jackson will now fall into the category of “invisible players” seen and heard only in and around the training room all year. He will have to deal with the separation anxiety from the team that he has probably dealt with in the past two seasons.

One year while I was with the Packers I had rotator cuff surgery and was able to rehabilitate it in our training room at off hours. I became part of this unenviable crew of souls brought together by injury to rehabilitate injuries at odd hours away and apart from the active members of the team. Although this group develops some camaraderie among each other and the trainers, they soon become invisible to the rest of the team.

When a player suffers a season-ending injury, initial concern soon fades to quiet irrelevance. Coaches will say show sorrow in the immediate days following the injury and then shift their attention to their active players. Teammates will pray for him in the moment but soon move on to impressing the coaches and making the team. Front office executives will make small talk about the rehab at a level commensurate with the future of the player on the team.

Trainers are the primary contact, although these players are pushed to the back of the line when the front line players need assistance. Players like Jackson now face a regimen of rehabilitating while the team is at practice, attending game-planning meetings for home games watched from a box with other injured players and practice squad players and away games watched on television.

This is the lonely and separate life of an injured player. It is a regimen of difficult and tedious work away from the preparations of the team. Jackson now becomes one of the first players in the league (Limas Sweed of the Steelers is another, rupturing his Achilles on May 3rd) to take on the status of season-ending injury. Others will join in the rehabilitation in spurts, but unless and until they are season-enders, they will not yet be part of the “invisible crew.”

Of course players like Jackson do not want to get injured. It just happens, and happens more to some players more than others. Some of it is training and conditioning; some of it is genetic; and some of it is dumb luck. Tomorrow I’ll look at the one player who has defied all the injury statistics, a certain former Packer, now erstwhile member of the Minnesota Vikings who, when asked how to spell Mississippi, would always respond “The state or the river?”

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