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Rash of injuries in NFL are exacerbated by social media

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 11:14 a.m. CDT

New England’s Tom Brady watched his long throw sail past rookie Aaron Dobson just as Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn pushed 320-pound left tackle Nate Solder into him during a joint practice Wednesday in Foxborough, Mass.

Brady hit the ground, rocked backward and held his left knee — the same one he tore up in the 2008 season opener that forced him to miss the rest of the year. Even before he limped off the practice field, Twitter went nuts, and not just because it was a two-time MVP quarterback.

Every twisted ankle and sprain has become a trending topic this preseason, giving the impression there’s an injury epidemic at training camps from coast to coast. Teams say that’s all it is — an impression.

“A lot of times there’s a little bit of panic because all we hear about is all the guys who get hurt in training camp,” said Denver Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-boss John Elway. “That hasn’t changed from when I played.”

What has changed is how that information is disseminated.

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL’s competition committee, noted that while some big-name players have been lost to major injuries, like torn ACLs, every bump and bruise seems to quickly become part of the national narrative.

With so many bloggers competing with traditional news sources for eardrums and eyeballs, “what goes on in the rush to break news now is that people don’t have the same standards to confirm the injury,” McKay said. “They want to make a splash on Twitter and sometimes it’s not reality.”

All this in a year when the NFL put limits on padded practices, issued new mandates on thigh and knee pads and made rules changes to protect players on both sides of the ball.

Elway said he doesn’t think there are any more injuries than before, and McKay, whose committee recommends rules and policy changes to the NFL, said owners won’t get the injury figures from training camp until their October meeting. As a result, he said it’s too soon to tell if there’s been a spike in any type of injury or at any particular position for that matter.

“We have no hard data yet,” he said. “We’ve had some ACL injuries so far. Last year, it was Achilles injuries in camp. I want to wait for the six weeks of training camp and the preseason and compare year to year and allow the experts to evaluate if there’s any more injuries or if the injuries are different than in years past. But I don’t think there’s any more.”

Like Brady, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles also created quite a buzz on social media.

Charles, who missed an entire season two years ago with a torn ACL in his left knee, turned his right foot midway through practice Monday, gingerly climbed into a green cart and was taken to the locker room.

Twitter was atwitter with “NFL insiders” giving conflicting accounts, some saying the Chiefs feared the worst, others saying they were relieved.

Coach Andy Reid briefed reporters when practice ended and said it was a strain and that X-rays were negative. Then, the speculation turned to how long the Pro Bowl running back would be out.

On Tuesday, with speculation about Charles’ injury still running rampant, the Chiefs trotted out their trainer, who said Charles had his foot examined by two orthopedic surgeons and they confirmed the team’s diagnosis of a mild strain.

The league has barred ball carriers this season from using the crown of their helmets to make forcible contact with a defender in the open field and eliminated the peel-back block. The changes were the latest involving safety, and head injuries in particular, with the issue receiving heightened attention amid lawsuits filed by former players claiming that the NFL didn’t do enough to prevent concussions in years past.

Camps had barely opened when Broncos center Dan Koppen, Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram, San Diego receiver Danario Alexander and Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin went down with torn anterior cruicate ligaments.

Bengals All-Pro receiver A.J. Green bruised his left knee trying to make an acrobatic sideline catch on the first day of camp.

“I can’t say that it’s unique to this preseason,” said St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, co-chair of the league’s competition committee with McKay. “Unfortunately, preseason injuries are a part of the game, and they happen every year. It’s just something that you hope that doesn’t happen to you.”

Some players, like Rob Gronkowski and Michael Crabtree, didn’t even make it to training camp healthy. Receiver Percy Harvin was sidelined on the eve of Seattle’s training camp by a torn hip labrum that would require surgery, something he announced, fittingly, on Twitter.

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