Top 5 Cringe-Worthy Sports Injuries from the Past 20 Years

Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget about the humanity of professional athletes – and especially for those who play “fantasy” sports. Case in point, NY Giants’ star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his gruesome ankle injury back in October. This was an injury so bad that even fans of the team’s rivals in the NFC East (Cowboys, Eagles, and Washington) sent out messages of sympathy.


Those who drafted OBJ for their fantasy football teams, however, weren’t all so kind.

Over the past 10-15, fantasy sports—where participants receive points for how real-life athletes perform in their actual games—has certainly grown in popularity. This has led to a bit of a change in traditional fandom. Instead of just rooting for “their” team, these fans often root for professional athletes from several different teams.

Since no one knows how the future will pan out, fantasy sports players often “draft” their team based off previous years’ results. One of the most consistent wide receivers as of late has been Beckham Jr., so he was usually drafted at a high value (either by round or auction price, depending on the kind of league).

Back in October, the NY Giants were playing the Los Angeles Chargers. OBJ went over the middle of the field to catch a pass when Eli Manning’s pass sailed high. The All-Pro wide receiver had to jump up to grab the ball. When he came down, his left foot twisted underneath his leg in a gruesome manner.

It was evident to anyone watching that this was a serious injury, especially since he was carted out of the stadium with a cast on his leg. Time proved this right, as the injury ended his season.

As we noted, there was an outpouring of support from fellow athletes—both in the NFL and beyond—and fans. Sadly, there were also fantasy football players who became really angry and accused OBJ of “ruining” their season. Those who did should feel ashamed. Sure, it’s a bummer that they weren’t going to get as many points as they likely would have had OBJ stayed healthy all season long, but those people forgot that OBJ is a human who sustained a devastating injury – one that would keep him away from his livelihood.

Professional sports serve a variety of positive roles for our society. Obviously, they are entertaining for fans and provide respite from the daily grind for at least a little bit. More than that, sports are a major source of economic benefit—creating countless jobs and extra revenue for a variety of other businesses (like hotels, restaurants, and bars)—and give interested children something to aspire to.

Of course, there is always a certain degree of injury risk, but that holds true even for non-professional athletes. A moving body can potentially get hurt – it’s just a fact of life.

We help our patients overcome a wide array of foot and ankle sports injuries of varying degrees. The good news is that most injuries aren’t actually terribly severe in nature. Even better, we can usually treat them without needing to use surgical intervention.

If you need foot or ankle care in the greater Austin community, contact us and we’ll be glad to help!

At the professional level, there have been some very serious injuries throughout the years. Today, let’s take a look at five that were particularly cringe-worthy:

Gordon Hayward

One of the biggest free agent signings prior to the current NBA season was former Utah Jazz All-Start Gordon Hayward joining the Boston Celtics. In doing so, Hayward was reuniting with his college coach, Brad Stevens, from when he played at Butler University.

Boston was opening the season at home and playing against their Eastern Conference rival Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a big, nationally-televised matchup between the two conference finalists from the previous season. Early in the game, Hayward jumped to catch a pass and came down awkwardly on his left ankle. In doing so, he dislocated the ankle and fractured his tibia. Since the game was being televised live, anyone who was watching the game on television could clearly see Hayward’s ankle and lower leg bend in a very unnatural way.

NaVorro Bowman

In January 2014, the San Francisco 49’ers’ star linebacker NaVorro Bowman had stripped the football away from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in the NFC championship game. This kind of play happens frequently in football. What does not happen so frequently, however is what came next.

After recovering the fumble, Kearse fell on top of Bowman’s left leg. When this happened, Bowman’s lower left leg was nearly perpendicular to his upper leg. The injury tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and cost him almost the entire next season. Fortunately, Bowman was eventually able to recover and, even though he might not have played at the same level as he did pre-injury, put together respectable statistics for the Niners.

Ed McCaffrey

Going back a bit further, Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey had a similar situation to Gordon Hayward. As with the Boston Celtic, McCaffrey was playing in his first game of the 2001 NFL season—a Monday Night Football game versus the NY Giants—when he came over the middle of the field and reached out for a 19-yard pass. Giants’ safety Shaun Williams was there to make a play for the defense. Unfortunately, when he hit McCaffrey, the wide receiver sustained a broken tibia and fibula, and then need surgery that night to repair the injuries, which ultimately cost him the rest of the season.

Jason Kendall

Not all cringe-worthy injuries happen in basketball and football, as is evidenced by one sustained by Pittsburg Pirates’ catcher Jason Kendall back in 1999. It was the Fourth of July and the Pirates were playing against the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee’s pitcher Steve Woodward had a no-hitter going through the fifth inning when Kendall laid down a bunt to try and break it up. After making contact with the ball, Kendall hustled down the first base line to try and beat the throw. When his foot landed awkwardly on the edge of the bag at first, he collapsed to the ground.

What had happened was a dislocation and ankle fracture. Even worse, the fracture was compounded, with bone protruding through the skin. As a result, Kendall had to miss the rest of the season. The good news in this case was that he recovered and played another 11 years in the majors (and was an All-Star in the 2000 season).

Paul George

An “in-season” injury can be tough for a player to endure, but it is possibly worse when the injury happens outside of the regular season or playoffs. Such was the case for Indiana Pacers’ star Paul George back in 2014. While playing with the U.S. National Team—during a Blue-White USA Basketball Showcase—George was chasing down James Harden (who currently plays for Houston) and, after catching and fouling Harden, came down hard out of bounds. As he did, George’s right leg buckled and his foot ended up hanging perpendicular to his leg.

As a result of this horrific injury, George missed most of the 2014-15 NBA season, but put a lot of hard work into his rehabilitation and was able to ultimately recover. Currently, he is playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony for the Oklahoma Thunder.

Professional athletes are generally much stronger and faster than those of us in the general population. As such, their bodies face greater physical forces. These additional forces make them more susceptible to cringe-worthy injuries like the ones we’ve covered.

When you play rec sports, work out, or go running, there is a chance you may end up with an injury. Feet and ankles are particularly at risk – since they are used for many activities. We hope you are able to stay safe when you participate in your favorite activities, but remember that our team is here to help if you do become hurt.

For more information, call Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists today at (512) 328-8900 or connect with us online right now!

Dr. Craig H. Thomajan, DPM, FACFAS, FAENS
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Founder and Managing Partner of Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists
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