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Gruesome injury shines light on fragility of careers

Mid-July to early August is the unequivocal doldrums of the sports calendar year. As much as I love baseball and the Timbers, the playoff races in each of those leagues hasn't truly kicked in yet, football is still weeks away and the the NBA is even further off.

So, as yet another way of procrastinating myriad household chores, I've found myself following the US Men's National Basketball team on at least a cursory level as it prepares for the FIBA World Cup.

Of course the biggest storyline from the team in the past week was the horrific leg injury suffered by the Indiana Pacers' Paul George during a scrimmage in Las Vegas.

For anyone who saw it live or watched the replay, it was obvious that the injury was potentially career threatening. Even with incredible medical advancements that have turned ACL tears into a lost season instead of a lost career and made a torn rotator cuff less than a death sentence for pitchers, an athlete's outlook can still be altered forever simply by landing the wrong way.

Prior to George's injury, perhaps the biggest story surrounding the national team was players' decisions to be involved with the squad.

Former Lake Oswego star and current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love received a small amount of criticism for his decision not to play for the team this offseason.

In a few knee-jerk articles and blog posts, his national loyalty was called into question, generally by writers or reporters who had no clue about the rationale behind his decision.

Of course, I have no idea what Love's motives are either and that's kind of the point. But I do know that Love has every right to make whatever decision he wants.

Love is entering the most important offseason of his career and has been the center of blockbuster trade talks with an enormous new contract looming and we've just seen firsthand how abruptly fortunes can change with a freak injury.

That's why I can never criticize a player who opts to cash in as quickly as possible at the professional level.

A player's body and skill set is unpredictable. Brandon Roy was forced into early retirement because of chronically bad knees, Derrick Rose went from winning and MVP to missing two seasons with injuries to both knees, Roy Halladay and Johan Santana went from being virtually unhittable to struggling to stay in a starting rotation practically overnight. And just this week, NFL runningback David Wilson had to retire at the age of 23 because of a neck injury.

Whenever a high-profile college player opts to stay another year, we often view that as an honorable decision and I don't want to discredit that personal choice either. But to portray the alternative as selfish or a cop-out in someway is disingenuous and naïve.

While a player like Andrew Luck did nothing to hinder his career by coming back, staying as the consensus No. 1 overall pick, that isn't always the norm. Besides, a player like Luck who comes from an affluent family and had a Stanford education to fall back on, was probably going to be successful in some avenue even if something took away his football career. That certainly isn't the case with a large percentage of prospective professional athletes.

I've seen how tenuous an athletic career is even at the high school level. In a little more than a decade of covering high school sports I've seen a player with a promising baseball career have to give that sport up following a big hit on the football field. I've seen a college-level basketball player virtually forced to retire before the age of 17 because her knees simply couldn't hold up. And I've seen injuries sustained during a player's freshman season, linger all the way through college.

So, when taking into consideration that an athlete's playing career can vanish practically in a heartbeat, coupled with the fact that we can never get inside an individual's head to fully understand his or her motivation, it's ill-advised to criticize any athlete for trying to make the best, personal decision.



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