When Clay Matthews re-fractured his right thumb sacking Ben Roethlisberger in Week 16, my first thousand thoughts were variations of frustration about what it would mean for the Packers. Whether Matthews is healthy or injured — he’s missed 10 games the past three years, and been hampered in perhaps a dozen others — has made the prevailing difference in whether or not the Packers have any pass rush. The defense could not afford to lose him, and his presence could have certainly made the difference in the last-second playoff loss to the 49ers wherein Colin Kaepernick was permitted to scramble 20 yards whenever he felt like it.
Lost in my selfish fan-hood lamentations, however, was what the re-aggravation would mean for everything else in Clay’s life. He described those daily struggles to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, who asked whether the second injury was more painful than the first one:
Physically, yes, and also emotionally more than anything, just knowing that the season was over for me.I’d have to have surgery again, which was very difficult in my dominant hand — showering, eating food, dressing, even traveling with the team, taking your clothes off, buttoning up your pants. It was just a pain.
Typically, when athletes get injured, they’re whisked away to rehab and never heard from again until they’re ready to play. I notice their absence on the field, but have no real sense of the pain and inconvenience they must endure to return to peak condition.
Breaking my thumb — or going through any of these gruesome injuries that sports fans have almost become de-sensitized to — would be excruciating, and I should be more conscious of that. It’s important to watch sports in a way that is less detached and more empathetic — these athletes are human beings, not mythological Greek Gods (despite some, like Clay, whose figures may suggest otherwise).
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