The Florida Marlins' brilliant young left fielder, Chris Coghlan, tore up his knee this week pulling a prank on teammate Wes Helms. Helms had just hit a walk-off home run, giving Florida a victory over Atlanta, and Coghlan thought it would be a good idea to douse him with a shaving cream pie while Helms was giving a television interview. Regretfully, such pie-in-the-face antics have become common recently, although it is hard to understand the logic. Helms had just won the game for the Marlins. Why exactly did he deserve being "pie-ed" on live television?
In any case, Coghlan jumped at Helms and, as he later explained, "landed wrong on my knee," shredding his meniscus. He may be out 6-8 weeks just when the Fish had a good chance to get back into the race. Just a bit tardy, Florida's manager, Edwin Rodriquez, banned all such hi-jinx. Coghlan explained on Twitter that his injury was part of "God's plan" for him, but the Almighty had nothing to do with the shaving cream.
Of course, it is easy to forget that these talented and well-paid athletes are really just passed adolescence. Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year, just turned 25. He has a brilliant career ahead of him, even though his sophomore statistics show a considerable drop-off from his stellar performance of last season. Coghlan is not the first player in Major League history to engage in horseplay, nor will he be the last to suffer an injury as a result.
The pie-in-the-face routine is not the only foolish injury this baseball season. In May, Ken Morales of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broke his left leg celebrating his game-winning, grand slam home run. As is now customary with home runs of the walk-off variety, Morales' teammates gathered around home plate to welcome the hero. Morales jumped, then slipped on the plate. The best hitter on the club is likely gone for the remainder of the season. I have been expecting the jumping-up-and-down ritual to result in a host of new names on the DL.
There is no way to avoid all injuries playing sports. Each year, kids under 15 suffer more than 3.5 million sports-related injuries requiring medical attention. Some of those injuries are unavoidable. Others come from intense training and overuse of muscles and bones not yet fully mature. While contact sports produce most of the serious injuries, they can occur in all settings. Adult supervision can reduce unnecessary injuries, but, if kids are pushed too hard, they will break.
At the same time that sports present risks, they also present important opportunities for physical and personal development. Our nation faces an epidemic of youth obesity, and First Lady Michelle Obama has spearheaded a national effort to make sure youngsters exercise daily. Combined with healthier eating, the Let's Move initiative urges children to be active 60 minutes a day.
Somewhere between inactivity and injury-producing over-activity, there must be a happy middle ground. Safety in physical fitness, however, must be an essential component of any organized program. Now that the National Football League seems to have acknowledged the dangers inherent in its game at the professional level, we can anticipate similar results from studies of youth football. We must make sure if our children participate, they have sensible coaching and the best protective equipment possible.
As colleges begin summer football practices, we are sure to hear stories about a host of athletes collapsing from the heat and dehydration. Macho coaches apparently still think this is a necessary part of toughening up their behemoths, but it is just as foolish and unnecessary as a pie in the face. Sometimes, common sense seems to be in as short a supply in athletics as it is in politics.
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