It’s often been said that injuries are a part of sports, but the more we find out about Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating knee injury that knocked him out for the 2016 NFL season, the more we find out how it’s rocked that premise to the core.
Bridgewater’s injury was a rarity in multiple ways. The first is that the young quarterback was lost for the season in a non-contact injury during a preseason practice on August 30th. The second was in the severity of the injury as Bridgewater tore his ACL and dislocated his kneecap. It sounds callous (and it is) but with the advances in player welfare and science it’s not uncommon at all to see athletes come back from season-ending injuries and having it be treated as business as usual by the sports world. However, Bridgewater’s injury was so bad it had teammates reportedly throwing up at the sight and experts saying Vikings trainers may have saved his leg.
And that leads to the third rarity, the fact that Bridgewater’s injury and what happened during that drill has been largely kept secret since August. There is no video footage of the incident and even in a new detailed piece from ESPN The Magazine about what exactly occurred with Bridgewater, Vikings teammates and personnel are reluctant to give any details about the freak injury.
From Tim Keown of ESPN.com:
They won’t talk about what the injury looked like, out of respect. These are men who long ago came to terms with the inhumanity of their game. They laugh about concussions and broken bones as a defense mechanism, the way an electrician might laugh with his buddies about getting a jolt from a faulty circuit. Occupational hazard.
But this is different. They close their eyes and wince, the image flashing in their minds. They shake their heads reflexively, as if they can dislodge the memory and evict it from their brains. They watched Teddy Bridgewater go down on that field on Aug. 30, his left leg separating at the knee, during the first minutes of a Vikings preseason practice. Every time they think about it, every time they stand near this field and close their eyes, they see it again.
The fact that to this date no video exists of Bridgewater’s injury is incredibly uncommon, especially given the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube…. and, it has to be said, given the nature of the NFL. For every touchdown highlight over the years, the NFL has also been associated with famous hits, even if they caused stomach-turning injuries.
How many times has Joe Theismann’s leg breaking in half been replayed over the years? For how many decades was Chuck Bednarik standing over a fallen Frank Gifford one of the iconic images in league history? And what about Jack Youngblood playing with a broken leg or Ronnie Lott sacrificing his own finger? For that insanely tough group of people to be so squeamish regarding Bridgewater’s injury shows how it can’t be compared to anything else we’ve seen before.
The only details we really have, even months later, is one of Bridgewater’s teammates telling Keown that his injury happened as he tripped up and “just awkwardly stepped on his knee.”
There are no available images of Bridgewater’s injury. They exist, no doubt — every NFL team records every second of practice, from the moment players begin stretching until they leave the field. And yet it seems nobody outside the organization has seen the moment Bridgewater went back to pass in a noncontact 11-on-11 drill, tripped in some fashion and landed in a way that caused his left leg to dangle in an anatomically impossible way nobody wants to talk about.
What remains is an incomplete, and reluctant, oral history.
“It was kind of a freak deal,” Thielen says. “He was dropping back and got tripped up and just awkwardly stepped on his knee. It’s hard to talk about. It was bad.”
Running back Jerick McKinnon shakes his head slowly when asked to describe what he saw that morning. He looks toward the practice field, to the 30, right hash.
“I saw it all,” he says. “I ain’t going to go into it. I don’t have any words to describe it.”
Adding to the situation is Bridgewater’s low profile since the injury occurred. He hasn’t appeared on the Vikings sideline or talked to the media. Even with reports swirling speculating about his future career in the NFL, he hasn’t commented publicly.
Bridgewater’s story is a stark reminder of how seriously any injury should be treated and the true sacrifice these NFL players make playing the game that they love. Keown’s story does a masterful job taking a serious second look at the league’s long-held “next man up” mantra when players go down with injuries. That saying takes on a whole new meaning and identity when players are confronted with a serious, even career-threatening injury to a teammate and friend. So often we want to forget or turn a blind eye to the physical toll of football because things like torn ACLs and broken bones have become normalized. Perhaps it was the freak nature of Bridgewater’s injury that shattered some of those preconceptions. The uncomfortable truth is that it shouldn’t take what happened to Teddy Bridgewater to remind all of us that NFL players are still human beings and their bodies and well-beings aren’t just mere commodities.