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"Fans know names, not real lives"

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Fans know names, not real lives


By BRIAN ETTKIN, Staff writer

First published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A-Rod returns today from the disabled list. No one doubts that you missed him, but did you worry or feel bad for him?


Probably not.


Elite athletes are our real-life comic book superheroes, our Flashes and Incredible Hulks, made of nerve tissue and bone just like the rest of us but able to perform superhuman feats we mortals could never achieve. Except for the rare occasions when a life-threatening injury occurs, most of us consider them indestructible.


So when a strained quadriceps sidelines Alex Rodriguez, we don't consider the discomfort or frustration he might be experiencing.


We wonder how long until he resumes swatting baseballs into the sweet hereafter.


When Jorge Posada goes on the disabled list for the first time in his career because of rotator-cuff tendinitis, few of us consider the pain and stresses he faces.


We do worry how much longer until he flashes signs to Wang and Pettitte again.


can be excused few of us are even acquaintances of the athletes we root for and follow. People concern themselves most deeply with family and friends, as they should, and it's hard to welcome Derek Jeter into the family, as well-spoken and polite as he seems, if you've never met. So it's easy to think of flesh-and-blood athletes as Rotisserie players whose health problems affect fictitious teams but otherwise don't matter to us.


I'm as guilty as anyone. When a player on a team I cover or follow is injured, the first thing I want to know is the length of time he'll be sidelined. A question such as "How he's feeling?" I'm ashamed to say isn't high on the list.


I recently gained a newfound empathy for injured athletes after I hurt myself in a fall that put me on the DL (head, neck) for the better part of a month. In no way am I comparing myself to an elite athlete -- or a mediocre one. But for the first time I felt the frustration of physically not being able to perform everyday tasks or my job for an extended period -- and wondering how long it would be until I could.


And I was only out a few weeks.


Iati suffered injuries than a rodeo bull rider when he played for UAlbany. He underwent a pair of surgeries to repair a partially torn labrum. He broke the big toe on his left foot twice. And then he had surgery before his senior season to repair a ruptured disk that was pinching his sciatic nerve. One doctor told him the surgery might end his career.


"One doctor told me I wasn't going to be able to use my leg correctly in life in general," said Iati, who will become a UAlbany graduate assistant coach next season.


Iati couldn't bend enough to pull up his socks. He couldn't stand on his tiptoes to grab something from the closet's top shelf. And yet he was most concerned about playing basketball again.


"I didn't want my career to end on a doctor's table," Iati said.


After the surgery Iati couldn't practice and felt as if he was letting his team down. That's the thing about injuries. They not only tear tendons and ligaments; they strain the soul, too.


Iati wondered if the incoming freshmen looked at him and thought, "The little white guy, can he even play? He's been hurt the whole time I've been here. Who is this guy? Is he the manager?"


"You lose a little bit of your identity, and you start wondering, 'What am I going to do?"' he said. "You're just basically sitting around; you can't wait for that to come back in your life."


Even when an athlete comes back, he might not be as good as new. When Iati returned to the team before the 2007-08 season he couldn't elevate on his jump shot as he once could. He couldn't throw a baseball pass. He couldn't even bend to pick up a loose ball; he had to fall on it to gain possession.


UAlbany track star Joe Greene suffered a Grade 4 hamstring tear on Feb. 9. Greene, who finished fourth in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the NCAA Track and Field Championships last year as a sophomore, recently said he's able to perform at only about 70 percent of his capabilities because of the injury and 12-week layoff.


He'd never lost at the America East Conference meet, but he did this season, prompting a teammate to observe, "Joe's actually human."


So is A-Rod. We're glad he's back because the Yankees need him. That is our concern.





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In Ettkin's blog today in regards to the article above....



What might’ve been

May 20, 2008 at 9:59 am by Brian Ettkin


I wrote today on our tendency to overlook the effect injuries have on athletes.


Illness had a profound effect on UAlbany coach Will Brown, who had been recruited by high-level programs such as Seton Hall, Notre Dame and Boston College out of high school. He signed with Penn but would transfer to Division II Dowling College as a freshman because of his chronic fight against Crohn’s Disease, which made keeping on weight a struggle.


He’ll never know how good a Division I player he might have become if he’d been healthy. It drives him now “to coach, to be involved in this game, because I really feel as a player my game was shortchanged a little bit. I grew up in a gym. I wanted to challenge myself to play at the highest level and be the best possible player. A lot of it was out of my control; you’ve got to play the hand dealt to you.”


He played it well enough to land a Division I head-coaching job and take UAlbany to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. And yet every once in a while he’ll reflect on his playing career and wonder, What might’ve been?

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