Crutches, Sprains and Pulls

“I look around campus and all I see are the maimed and the injured.” (Melissa Studzinski, NE)

Call it the Weekend Warrior Effect, Reclaiming Our Lost Youth, or maybe just Denial, but playing sports at HBS can be pretty hazardous. There were 82 reported injuries at Shad between September 2002 and March 2003, from ankle/knee sprains and pulled muscles to dislocated shoulders and blows to the head. Nearly a quarter required off-campus treatment at University Health Services or a local emergency room. And over 90% of these incidents occurred during sports games, primarily basketball. What’s going on here? Common sentiment among the Shad-going populace points to a few major factors.

“People don’t stretch,” asserts Gog Boonswang (NA). “You have to be a little more aware of warming up and cooling down and stretching before and after. Especially if you don’t work out a lot, and there are plenty of people here who don’t work out a lot.” Instead of warming up, people walk from Aldrich to Shad, and from the locker room to the court; instead of cooling down, players convene at the bar. Beer is certainly preferable to Gatorade, after all.

Then there’s the sad fact of time. As Dan Reed (NC) states: “People are trying to reclaim their lost youth – they don’t realize they’ve hit a wall and they’re old!” And it’s been a while since we’ve been in top shape. “Most students have been working for at least four years since playing college sports,” points out Mark Okerstrom (NE), nursing damage to his orbital socket, “But they think they’re as good as they were when they left school; their minds are in the same place, but their skills have atrophied.” As Brian Corey (NG) puts it: “Our egos are writing checks our bodies can’t cash.”

The primary reason, though, seems to be a special HBS-brand of spirited play.

“It’s competitive as hell!” says Boonswang. “The level of competitiveness here is as high as I’ve ever seen it, and that includes pickup games in New York and whatever. Fights break out in almost every other game. People forget we’re in school and just go for it.

Blows and contusions? That’s all the competitive part – like aggressive rebounding. Conflict never goes on after the game, but during the game, you get in your boy’s face!”

Says Paul Cairns (NE): “Anyone who’s ever been a basketball player always thinks they can play their best game. There are people here who would choose to try and play with NBA players rather than excuse themselves and play with someone their own level. I don’t know if it’s ego, or what.”

“We’re a bunch of Type-A’s,” explains Roy Kim (NA), his eye blackened from a recent rugby match, “Everyone wants to win.” Some of us might be going a bit too far. Cairns cited an example at a recent intramural basketball game, when a teammate snapped his Achilles tendon during play. “He was just lying on the floor in total pain. I went to see if he was all right … the ball had gone out of bounds, and the opposing team wanted us to be called for a 5-second violation for delaying play. I mean, it’s a joke! This isn’t the NBA, man.”

And many believe that the real injury rate, or at least the pain rate, is much higher than statistics would suggest. “People limp around campus for days after a big athletic event,” says Cairns. “I mean, reported injuries are one thing, but the percentage of people who go home afterward and lament to their spouses and significant others and roommates is probably in the 80-90% range. Some people don’t even play at all because they know the costs of playing are higher than any
upside of winning. They just know it’s going to hurt.”

You can’t fight nature, but can anything be done about an excessively competitive spirit?

“If HBS wants to improve goodwill and reduce injuries on the playing field and in the competitive arenas at Shad, they should implement a no-score policy, in keeping with the no-grade policy in the classroom,” suggests Cairns. “No one knows who wins. At the end of the game, one player gets voted Most Valuable Player, one player gets voted Least Valuable Player, everybody else just gets Somewhat Valuable Player and that’s it.”