Football no longer has time for frailty, or humanity

This is a fascinating thought by a favorite Twitter account, because it sums up so much about the game, how supporters deal with it and how it manifests itself in ways that we talk about football.

Time is tight.

Umtiti has been plagued by a bad knee. Just when he came back from that, comes a contact injury, a fractured metatarsal. One response to Mr. Truica’s Tweet said essentially, he chose club over country, chose to play World Cup with his knee as it was, so he deserves what he gets from supporters. The response is perfectly illustrative of how the game is now, the patience it lacks, the time it no longer has for humanity, compassion or empathy.

An aside.

Years ago there was a show that toured the globe, called “Body Worlds,” that featured human cadavers in various bits, pieces and forms. The goal was to help us understand our bodies by seeing them in a way that we had never seen them before. The effect the show had on me was to freak me right the hell out in looking at the rickety contraptions that are our bodies, the foot in particular.

The foot has what looks to be about 437,000 tiny bones, being held together by something or other. When you really examine the foot, the ankle, the ligaments and tendons that hold it all together, it’s a wonder that every match doesn’t feature a metatarsal injury. Hell, it’s a wonder players can kick a ball at all without falling to the pitch, writhing in agony. Who the hell designed these things, anyhow?

Umtiti had contact, and one of those tiny bones suffered damage in a way that affects the whole crazy quilt structure. And because of that happenstance, that’s it. Done. Sell him. The window is closed, but sell him anyway. Five to six weeks for recovery? For a CB who many consider a shadow of his past glories (he’s only 25)? Sell!

Dembele came up in the discussion, a case that many consider different, that hamstring injuries are a consequence of diet, and warming up, and sleep, and stretching, and … pardon me … bwahahaha! If you recall that famous video of the honey badger, an animal who doesn’t give a damn, hamstrings are the honey badger of the human body. Like calves (ahem), we use them for everything: sitting, walking, standing, running, rolling over while sleep, you name it. They are comprised of gazillions of individual fibers, the tearing of any one of which can compromise the entire structure. And they don’t care.

Even a perfectly warmed up hamstring, treated with the best of care, can rupture at the first sprint. It’s just what they do, what muscle fibers do, without even getting into the more fragile fibers of a sprinter vs an endurance athlete. There’s a reason top-class track sprinters (on foot) spend so much time injured. But we don’t think about that, because we don’t have time. Our team has to win, and win now. Any human frailty that impedes that must be discarded. “Poor fellow,” we used to say when a player was injured. Now it’s, “Dammit, now what are we going to do?! He should take better care of himself.”

More science.

Did you know that a 150-pound runner, at initial strike, exerts a force more than seven times his body weight? And that’s just once. Over the course of a given day, a sedentary person just milling about exerts force on his feet and lower body in an amount that measures in tons. Know what the shock absorbers and engines for all that force and movement are? Knees and hamstrings. Even the best tended to hammy is like a rubber band, stretched to the limit, and you’re looking at it thinking, “This is going to snap me in the face any second now.”

That is a hamstring, pretty much all the time when we’re awake and moving. When an athlete like Dembele or Messi sprints, their explosiveness puts their hamstrings under particularly high stresses. It’s a wonder they aren’t injured more often, really. Messi solved the problem by walking, except when he absolutely needs to. He has also adapted his gait. He uses his glutes more when he runs now, instead of hamstrings.

When Dembele runs, it’s beautiful and precarious. When he walks, it’s almost like a man with a bad back — gingerly, perched forward a bit. Short hamstrings? Possibly. What’s the solution for short hamstrings? Die and be reborn again. Other than that, not much. Live with them. Curse them.

Here’s something else to consider: For a sprinter, Dembele’s ass is pretty small. So guess what? His hamstrings have to take even more of the force of generating explosiveness. Sprinters usually have big butts. What all of this means is, potentially, that Dembele is a hamstring injury waiting to happen. But even if he isn’t, he is. Every athlete is, even those that sleep in a finest beds, being fanned by supermodels as their hammies rest in a concoction of alien placenta. Hamstring injuries are a consequence of a running sport, just as toe injuries are a consequence of kicking sports. The larger question is what happened to our patience with them?

“Griezmann runs, and doesn’t get injured. Why can’t Dembele be like that?”

Look at how the two players approach the game. If you watch Griezmann, he walks a lot, trots some, almost skips into positions. The moments during a match when he is running full-out, stopping, starting, changing direction aren’t that many. Compare that to Dembele, whose entire game is running full out, stopping, starting and changing direction. It’s what makes him so dynamic, and also what makes him so fragile. Dembele will always be fragile, no matter where he goes. If that fragility makes us angry, we should consider why it does, what we need from the game. Things are different now. We’re only gutted for a player who suffers a catastrophic injury, and sometimes not even then. We don’t mourn that we will never see what Umtiti was developing into. We scorn his frailty and wish him gone. We wash our hands of Dembele as he pulls up lame again. Many even washed their hands of Messi as he lay weeping on a stretcher, being carried off against Celtic after yet another muscular injury.

The game gives us so much — beauty, thrills, joy, sadness — in its role as a microcosm of life. If we don’t go through our real lives devoid of passion and empathy, why do we approach the game that way? What changed?

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.