athlete preparing for training in locker room

Son of a Pitch!: Three Notable Athletes that Sustained Sports Injuries

Tommy John

While modern medicine has drastically improved, baseballers of yesteryear often had their careers cut short by injuries. One famous MLB pitcher who debuted in the early 1960s, Thomas “Tommy” John, was a notable exception. Roughly 10 years after he entered the major leagues, John was diagnosed with a serious elbow injury—a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). But what should have ended his pitching career became one of the most famous medical procedures in sports: the Tommy John Surgery. His surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, was a leading expert in the field of orthopedic surgery and the first to introduce the procedure. After recovering, John went on to have a long and successful MLB career. To this day, UCL reconstruction is still referred to as Tommy John Surgery.

Kobe Bryant

Of course MLB pitchers aren’t the only athletes susceptible to career-threatening shoulder injuries. The Black Mamba himself had a scare back in January 2015. While facing off against our very own Pelicans, the legendary Lakers shooting guard tore his rotator cuff in the game’s second half. After Bryant dropped down from an aggressive two-handed dunk, Coach Byron Scott knew something wasn’t right. Bryant was holding his right shoulder and ended up leaving the game in the third quarter.

But in typical Mamba fashion, Bryant jumped back into the game despite the pain. Unaware of exactly how severe his injury was at the time, Bryant—who’s right-hand dominant—went on to play using only his left had. He even made a 14-foot jump shot. Just one of the countless reasons why Kobe Bryant remains a legend.

Drew Brees

Picture it: San Diego, 2005—26 year old Chargers’ quarterback Drew Brees has the home-field advantage as he faces the Denver Broncos. In an attempt to recover a fumbled football in the second quarter, tragedy strikes. Brees takes a solid hit from the Broncos’s safety, John Lynch. While on the ground, he’s tackled by Gerard Warren. That’s when every QB’s worst nightmare happens: Brees sustains a severe shoulder injury that extensively tears his labrum and rotator cuff. 

But what could have been a career-ending injury became the Comeback Kid story that gave us our beloved number 9 for the New Orleans Saints. Thanks to Dr. James Andrews and his skilled surgical team, dedicated physical therapist Kevin Wilk, and the patient’s own strong will and determination, Brees successfully recovered. The next year he was pulling on a black-and-gold jersey. And about three years after that, he led the Saints to their history-making Superbowl XLIV win. Not bad for a QB that everyone thought would never be able to play football again!

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