Place proper importance on injuries

By Eli Schuster, Sports Editor

OSaturday, freshman wide receiver Edwin Carter made a spectacular catch.

It was late in the second quarter. Carter ran toward the end zone and jumped to catch a ball perfectly thrown by backup quarterback M.J. Rivers. It was Carter’s second career catch as an Illini — his first was a touchdown that came earlier that game.

The grab is the last reception Carter will be making all season. As he leaped into the air, a Western Illinois defensive back came flying forward to make the tackle.

All the Western player could do was go for the lower body, and the momentum took him right through the legs of Carter, flipping him over as he fell limply, into the end zone.

As the crowd cheered on the score, Carter lay in pain, grabbing his knee.

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The catch and hit were almost simultaneous, and Carter wasn’t getting back up. Fans’ attention turned briefly to the struggling Carter, who eventually rose to his feet and was practically carried off the field and into the locker room.

The game moved on.

I had trouble getting over what I saw. I’ve played the image of Carter flipping into the end zone multiple times in my head, almost twice as many times as I’ve seen it creep into my social media timelines.

Throughout my years of covering football — running on four — I have seen my fair share of injuries. Whether it be at practice or on the playing field, I’ve been up-close-and-personal as a player’s world was “rocked.” It’s a sickening, gut-wrenching feeling.

The pop of helmets — or  worse yet — body parts colliding leaves a heavy, lingering noise that is hard to wash away.

Fans and journalists alike have grown immune to player injury. When attending a press conference, the media awaits the injury report from the head coach. Quickly, that information is tweeted out, and the general public glosses over it with the remainder of the day’s news.

If anything, injuries to football players have become merely an inconvenience to people.

Hey, fantasy football wins are on the line. Money is on the line.

But at what point does the attention turn back to the athlete? It isn’t until a full recovery that, once again, people will pick up caring. Out for the season means out of mind.

Even the injury to Illinois standout Mike Dudek will run its course. People have been excited for his return twice before, but now there is no sure future to look too.

The outreach to Dudek online and in the mass media was of the utmost respect, but the question becomes whether it takes three season-ending knee injuries to grab people’s full empathy.

Many didn’t know Edwin Carter’s name until his two-touchdown catch on Saturday night, and many won’t remember it until his third. But an injury isn’t the end of the road. In fact, an injury creates a whole new beginning.

The TV screen that separates the viewer from the individual does not tell a fictional story. The pain and hardship that latches onto an athlete are all too real. The reality for Carter could become a year of nonstop rehabilitation.

I can’t watch games the way I used to. When a player suffers a hard strike or awkward fall, my once-casual reaction is now one of concern. When a player hits the turf, fans shouldn’t hit the road. The journey back to making those ooh-and-ahh plays is a long one, and the support shown during that time can mean a whole lot.


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