The NFL word of 2013: ACL

Every year at around this time, those involved in the world of linguistics and literature draw some conclusions regarding the most popular words or expressions used in society by announcing a "word of the year." Between 2009 and 2012, for example, the American Dialect Society went with tweet, app, occupy and hashtag (amazing how closely those four are connected, huh?). And Oxford recently declared that their word of 2013 is selfie.

I think we need a word of the year in sports. And as a sports writer with a background in media studies and a degree in journalism, I'd like to toss out a suggestion. My word isn't really a word, it's an acronym, but that should be acceptable since GIF won the 2012 Oxford "prize" within the United States. 

I'm going with ACL.

This idea came to me while reading a Grantland article on the rise in torn anterior cruciate ligaments within the world of American professional sports. 

From the author, Neal Gabler:

"One might even say the three most important letters in sports are not NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL but ACL, as in the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament, that little bundle of collagen right at the center of your knee."

Think about it. Only one month into the year, Adrian Peterson was named the MVP of the NFL after falling just nine yards short of setting the single-season rushing yards record despite the fact he started the season only eight months removed from surgery to repair his blown up ACL. 

On that same day in New Orleans, Robert Griffin III was forced to limp to the stage to collect his offensive rookie of the year award. The sensational No. 2 overall pick had torn his ACL on Jan. 6. One of the most fascinating stories of the offseason involved Griffin's recovery, and his struggles as a sophomore have been linked heavily to that injury. 

Over in the NBA, a third mega-star was severely impacted by a bad ACL. Derrick Rose missed over a year of action after tearing his in a playoff game the previous spring. He wasn't able to return to the Bulls until this past fall, and you'll recall that he took a lot of heat for his slow comeback, especially in comparison to Peterson. Rose is out now with another knee injury, but it's not his ACL. 

On the hardwood, Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa were also victimized by ACL tears early in 2013.

But it's the football world that has really turned ACL into a bad word — or at least a bad acronym. Peterson and Griffin didn't miss much time, but their injuries were the talk of the sports world, before, during and after. But how 'bout the overall numbers?

According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, 25 players were placed on injured reserve after suffering torn ACLs in 2011. That number increased to 32 in 2012. In 2013, it had already hit 30 by Oct. 23. And that was conservative, because Reddit had the count at 38 then and pegs the total at 53 now.

Which means this has likely been the worst year for ACL tears in NFL history. This fall alone, we've lost guys like Sam Bradford, Maurkice Pouncey, Henry Melton, Jeremy Maclin, Geno Atkins and Reggie Wayne to torn ACLs. The latest victim, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, is a big enough star that it clinches it. Injuries to that ligament are officially the story of the year. 

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at, Deadspin,, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.