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Derrick Rose, Rob Gronkowski, and the Rise in ACL Tears - Grantland

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Great story on how ACL Tears are the Godzilla of Injuries:

To be honest, it doesn't look like much. It's short, just over an inch in length, and stubby, about half an inch wide. It is white, slick, and striated like a cluster of angel-hair pasta. It isn't rubbery, and it doesn't have much elasticity. In fact, you wouldn't give it a second thought — not until it self-destructed, which it occasionally does, always at the most inopportune of times. And then you wouldn't think about much else butthat gremlin that now sits at the center of so many of our games. It was there when Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard dove at Tom Brady's knee on the 15th offensive snap of the Patriots' season in 2008. It was there in December 2011 when Adrian Peterson went up the middle for three yards in the third quarter. It was there when Derrick Rose landed awkwardly during the first game of the 2012 playoffs, making him grimace in agony and sending him to the sidelines for over a year. It was there two years ago when Mariano Rivera was shagging flies in Kansas City and tripped over the apron to the warning track, ending his season. It was there just this last weekend when Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward crashed into the knee of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. It has been there for Mickey Mantle, Wes Welker, Jerry Rice, Ricky Rubio, Donovan McNabb, Craig Biggio, and Tiger Woods, to name just a handful. That gremlin is always there — just waiting to pop.

Lately, though, it seems to have been acting up a lot — so much so that one might even say the three most important letters in sports are not NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL but ACL, as in the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament, that little bundle of collagen right at the center of your knee. It is that bundle that tears apart, leaving athletes to scream, cry, and pound the turf or court in frustration and torment. There are nearly 400,000 ACL repair procedures each year in the United States — a disproportionate number of them for women, who are seven or eight times more likely to tear their ACLs than men. If there has been an uptick in ACL injuries among the general population, says Dr. Brian Cole, the Chicago Bulls' team physician and the surgeon who performed Derrick Rose's reconstructive surgery, it is because more people, especially young people, are participating in sports. "You're seeing more exposure to high-risk activities," says Dr. Cole, "and you're seeing a different level of athleticism that's probably contributing." But that's the general population — you and me. Among professional athletes, the number of ACL injuries has soared. When Rose went down with his ACL tear, he was, according to Basketball Prospectus, the first true star to have done so since Danny Manning tore his ACL in 1995, and Manning was the first since Bernard King tore his in 1985. Then came the deluge. Though the NBA refuses to release information on ACL tears, by one tally, seven guards suffered tears after Rose, including Iman Shumpert, who tore his the same day as Rose; Rajon Rondo; and Leandro Barbosa. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL just a month before Rose.

Where the number of tears seems to hit epidemic proportions is in the NFL. Professional football doesn't release ACL figures, either, but Kevin Seifert of discovered that as of October 23, 30 players had been placed on injured reserve because of ACL tears — topping the 25 for all of 2011 and edging close to the 32 for all of 2012. As early as this year's NFL training camps, ACLs were snapping all over the place.

But here is the thing about ACL tears: They're not just another injury. They are the Godzilla of injuries. They are painful beyond tolerance, they take eons to rehab, and they always leave a lingering doubt in the athlete's mind that he will ever be whole again. An ACL tear tests one's mettle. An ACL tear goes to the very heart of resilience and mental toughness. An ACL tear is the standard against which the athlete himself measures his determination. An ACL tear is the absolute limit.

Grantland has a lot more to say about ACL injuries and why they're on the rise:

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