This is a mental, physical, and emotional question all rolled into one. This past Saturday, South Carolina Gamecocks‘ running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a gruesome injury to his right knee at the end of a running play against the Tennessee Volunteers. The play occurred in the second quarter of the Gamecocks’ 38-35 win and came during what was a great game in the making for Lattimore, who had already scored a touchdown and run for around 70 yards. Lattimore had to be carted off the field and his life in football has been called into question since the injury occurred.
The reason this is such a problem for Lattimore is that it isn’t his first major knee injury as a Gamecock. Lattimore missed the second half of last season with a torn ligament in his left knee. This year it was his right knee and the injury was even more serious as Lattimore suffered a broken right femur and patella, as well as major ligament damage. The timetable for his return to the field is a year and may end up being more.
Devastating knee injuries to a man who just today became old enough to drink is something that might make one wonder about how worth it playing football is for someone in this position. It certainly got me thinking.
It’s always sad to see talent not come to fruition. That was my thought on Lattimore once the shock of the injury finally wore off. Here’s someone with obvious skill and talent, someone who could make the transition to the pro level, and he’s struck down with two major injuries in as many years. Looking at it from the perspective of NFL scouts, this makes Lattimore someone with an injury problem as opposed to someone who suffered an injury in college. The difference: Willis McGahee suffered an injury on his final play of college football, but didn’t have anything major prior to it while he played for the Miami Hurricanes. With Lattimore, that isn’t the case as Saturday’s injury had its predecessor last year around this time.
The other thing that has to come into play with whether Lattimore steps on the field again is the severity of this latest injury, i.e. how many years could Lattimore have left in him after this injury? This is really the question that will define how much worth there is for Lattimore playing football again. Is it worth him to step back on the field for a season or three seasons? Any chance of Lattimore getting that initial big money contract are out the window thanks to these injuries, so if he ever wants to get the big money in the NFL, he’s going to have to make it on his performance, and that’s performance with knees that are damaged goods.
The other thing to really think about here as well is the risk of repeating this injury. What’s happened to Lattimore in each of the last two seasons isn’t an uncommon injury for football players, especially running backs. One of the risks with this position specifically, maybe more than wide receivers even, is the risk of leg injury because defenders will come in low to try and make a tackle, and this was the case on Saturday on the play that resulted in Lattimore’s injury. Bcause of this, if it were to happen again, the consequences could be even more severe and costly in the long run.
I’m not saying that Lattimore can’t make a full comeback and get to the NFL, as it’s happened before. I’m not saying that Lattimore couldn’t defy initial expectations and actually have a career in the NFL after this kind of injury, McGahee most recently proved that it could be done. Anything is possible, and Lattimore’s decision about playing again is one that likely won’t be made until recovery and rehabilitation gets underway. But when it is time to make that decision, hopefully all of the risks will be weighed-in along with the monetary benefits of a pro football career.