The perspective of pain is what this story is about. For fans, injuries are like commercials, the price of watching the game as well as harrowing advertisements for the humanity of the armored giants who play it. For gamblers and fantasy-football enthusiasts, they are data, a reason to vet the arcane shorthand (knee, doubtful) of the injury report the NFL issues every week; for sportswriters they are kernels of reliable narrative. For players, though, injuries are a day-to-day reality, indeed both the central reality of their lives and an alternate reality that turns life into a theater of pain. Experienced in public and endured almost entirely in private, injuries are what players think about and try to put out of their minds; what they talk about to one another and what they make a point to suffer without complaint; what they’re proud of and what they’re ashamed by; what they are never able to count and always able to remember.
According to a study conducted by the National Football League, the approximately two thousand players active on the thirty-two NFL teams suffered about forty-five hundred injuries in 2011, for an injury rate of 225 percent. These were injuries that caused not simply pain and discomfort but also cost players at least two weeks of playing time; these were not simply bruises and scratches and abrasions but also concussions, torn ACLs, ruptured Achilles tendons, high ankle sprains, hyperextended elbows, broken metatarsals, turf toes, stretched or compressed spines, pulled hamstrings, and torn muscles, along with assorted strains, contusions, and herniations. These constitute, for the players who experience them, at least the first paragraph of the writing on the wall — because in the NFL the writing on the wall is always written directly on the body.