Let's be clear about something up front: Injuries are the worst.
If you are a fan of BYU athletics and have been a sentient human over the past two weeks, you know what I mean. The Cougars have watched several of their best football players fall in the past two games — some in rather routine fashion, others in much more horrific circumstances.
Obviously, the Taysom Hill injury was the most traumatic for a number of reasons. Because of who Taysom is and what he represents, both on and off the field. Because of the injury's severity and ESPN's insistence on showing the replay approximately 18 billion times from every possible angle. Because of that sinking feeling felt simultaneously by the entire BYU fan base as Hill was carted to the locker room, the feeling that underscored what we all instantaneously knew then and what has been subsequently confirmed since — that Taysom Hill's absence would incontrovertibly change the face of the team, single-handedly putting the kibosh on our grandiose visions of what could have been.
I've essentially been in mourning since that moment — and I don't even like football that much. I could get over losing to Utah State and enduring the taunts from Aggie fans (and Ute fans). That stung, but the pain subsided with relative ease. But I couldn't (and still can't) shake what happened to Taysom — and what it meant not only for him and his family, but also for every other member of the team who'd worked so hard to put the Cougars in that position. Talk about a punch to the gut.
But despite the dramatic nature of his injury, Hill wasn't the only one injured in that Utah State game. Alani Fua and Dallin Leavitt, two leaders of BYU's defense, and talented offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley all suffered less graphic but nonetheless consequential injuries of their own. It was like pouring an entire shaker's worth of salt directly into the fresh wound.
One might have thought BYU had earned a reprieve from the injury bug, after it ran rampant in the Utah State game. I mean, how likely was it that the Cougars could continue losing starters at that clip? One physical game, sure, I can see that resulting in a rash of injuries. But sustaining that level of loss across multiple games seemed unlikely.
Then the first quarter against Central Florida happened. Starting running back Jamaal Williams took a single carry then promptly sat out the rest of the game with an ankle injury. Starting cornerback Jordan Johnson suffered a broken arm while unsuccessfully attempting to stop the Knights' first touchdown, which led to him being taken directly to the hospital in an ambulance. And then, as if things weren't bad enough already, senior captain Craig Bills — the symbolic, spiritual leader of the BYU defense if there ever was one — lowered his head at just the wrong time during punt coverage, taking a nasty (accidental) blow from his own teammate and sustaining a concussion that would knock him out of the game. And again, this was all in the first quarter.
Yikes. When will it end? When will these young men catch a break that doesn't include the snapping of their own bones?
The answer, of course, is never. I don't say that to be alarmist. I don't think BYU is cursed or anything like that. That would be silly. But there is no getting around the fact that injuries — and sometimes graphic injuries — are a part of sports. They're an exceptionally unfortunate part, but they are a part nonetheless. No matter what the game or level of competition, we accept the risk of injury every time we step onto a field or court.
And that injury bug can — and often does — strike at the most nonsensical and inconvenient times. Think Taysom Hill on the last play of a decided game against USU in 2012. Think Kyle Collinsworth in the WCC championship game against Gonzaga last March. Think just about any weekend warrior who has suffered a sprained ankle or tweaked knee during an early morning church ball game. When you lace up your sneakers or cleats, no matter who you are or what you're doing, you are risking injury.
That doesn't make it any easier to endure when it happens — and it happens much more often and with more ferocity in football, due to the inherently violent nature of the game.
I usually earn my keep at this site and at other places around the Internet writing about basketball. Injuries are a part of basketball, too. Ask Paul George's snapped leg. Like with any sport, a horrific accident could be only a heartbeat away from taking place at any time when the ball is in play. And while that's certainly true (and George serves as the most recent, sobering reminder), it's worth considering that they often don't.
On the whole, basketball is a pretty safe sport. Sure, you'll probably see a badly sprained ankle every once in awhile. Serious knee injuries like Collinsworth suffered are not wholly uncommon, but they still happen relatively infrequently. That's what makes them so notable and heart-rending when they do occur — we're simply not used to them. George's compound leg fracture was shocking and graphic in a way that isn't normally associated with the sport he plays, and that's why it captured the nation's attention for a week or so. It was the exception, not the norm.
In football, serious injuries are more common. We've come to expect them, to a certain extent. It's just the nature of the game — large men throwing their bodies into each other at high speeds, often at awkward angles. Legs get rolled up on. Knees plant the wrong way. Heads get slammed. It just happens — and we've come to accept it.
That's why it's been so strange to experience these last two weeks of BYU football. It shouldn't surprise me that players are getting hurt. I understand the savagery of the game and the enormity of the risk every time they suit up. But rarely do we expect the type of sustained run of high-profile — and at least in the case of Taysom Hill, graphic — injuries that we've witnessed since the Utah State game. Because there have been so many injuries, and because those injuries have been suffered by such key players, it feels somehow worse than normal. And it is, in some ways — BYU's season is definitely impacted more by missing Hill or Bills than it would be missing a second-string player. But the talent level of the player injured doesn't (or at least shouldn't) alter our perception of the injury and the game during which it is sustained.
Whether it's Taysom Hill or Unknown Player X, every single kid that steps onto that field in a BYU uniform and subsequently has to be carried off of it is a tragedy. And while it may be part of football — a nasty, ugly part — we shouldn't accept it out of hand. We can't become numb to it, only truly feeling the loss when it affects what we believe is our God-given right to see our team win. We should, at the very least, recognize each player's loss and honor them for sacrificing their physical body — the most basic yet valuable thing any of us has in this world — so that we could watch our alma mater hopefully beat somebody else's alma mater in a child's game.
Whether they are contending for a Heisman Trophy or not, every player deserves that respect — the same respect we give to the Taysom Hills and the Alani Fuas and the Jamaal Williamses. Because chances are, they will be injured at some point during their football career, and perhaps badly. They will endure that pain and suffering because they were trying to perform for our ultimate benefit. And we will all get to flip off our TVs at the end of the night and go on safely with our lives, but those kids have to live with those injuries every day. And injuries? Injuries are the worst.