Friday, March 4, 2011

Disposable Athletes

There are a few ways to look at the concept of the “disposable athlete”. Much of how we view this has to do with the level that the athlete is participating. The culture of club sports has given us year around practices and games with little rest for the athlete. When the cost of competing on some of the elite clubs approaches $10,000/year (with registration, tournament fees, uniform, travel, etc), the focus begins to shift to the financial investment leaving the young athlete in a position where they have to play injured in an effort to recoup the investment.

How many high school coaches/parents/athletes follow the motto of “no pain, no gain”? Many sports either purposely or mistakenly (they still do it, though) operate under a paradigm of toughness (physical and mental). This is an important aspect of sport which leads to many of the benefits that are derived from participation. But, when mistakes are made (exercise induced injuries are a result of mistakes) and the line is crossed resulting in athletes participating injured, the disposability of the athlete is exposed. There is always a new supply of athletes waiting for their turn to play.

Sometimes athletes become disposable out of a lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge often comes from research that brings out new knowledge, or it may be a result of refusal to keep abreast of the current base of knowledge. There are many athletes who simply disappear from view due to the accumulation of multiple injuries such as head injuries. Until recently (the past few years), repetitive injuries to the brain were not considered significant by many due to the fact that diagnostic modalities could not detect an injury to the brain unless there was physical damage. The evidence is there now to definitively contradict that earlier thought, causing wonder to how much damage has been caused to how many athletes?

While sometimes it may be a lack of knowledge or limited financial backing, it may also be a result of greed (personal or corporate) that creates the disposable athlete. The higher levels of sport have large amounts of money involved from gate receipts, television rights, salaries, product endorsement, etc. The University of Connecticut is reported to have lost more then 1.5 million dollars in playing in their first ever BCS bowl game. It is unknown whether a loss such as this will have any affect on the health of the athlete or the athletic program. The National Football League and the National Football League Players Association are at odds, and facing a possible lockout, with one of the points being health benefits and over the number of games in the regular season (the increase of the number of regular season games to 18). The owners want to increase their profits, the athletes want to negotiate higher salaries and through this there will be a direct correlation between the number of games and the physical health to the body and brain. Even at the professional level, the athlete has become disposable. Amazing that at the beginning levels of sport and the elite levels of sport, money is often a factor in creating a disposable athlete.