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When Should Injured Athletes Throw in the Towel?

Considering the damage of professional sports on the back of Mateu Morey’s latest injury.

Westfalia Rhynern v Borussia Dortmund - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Joachim Bywaletz/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

234 days. 375 days. 170 days. 103 days.

Since becoming a professional footballer, Mateu Morey has been classified as injured for over 100 days four times, accounting for 882 days in treatment, or 2.4 years. Even more shocking is when you include minor injuries and recovery time as well. If you add up all injuries, Mateu has spent a whopping 1,186 days in treatment and recovery. 3.25 years. That’s almost as much time as I spent in college.

I’m not laying out these statistics in such a dramatic way to criticize Morey, as there is nothing the Spaniard can do about it. Injuries are a part of sport and an inherent risk created when pushing the human body to the peak of its ability. The question becomes how much is too much? At only 23 years old, Mateu Morey is at the very beginning of his adult life. While footballers become professionals much earlier than most of us, Morey is still by most accounts a kid, and though his “young prospect” time is behind him, he still has plenty of life in front of him.

Numerous injury prone players have gone on to have long and successful careers. We only have to look as far as Marco Reus to see that a player can manage their recoveries and make it into their thirties at the top level. But Morey has barely had the chance to get started, and one begins to questions whether the long-term ramifications are worth the trauma to the body that a 23 year-old really shouldn’t be enduring.

Looking across the pond, we can find many similar cases in American sports as well. I am from Baltimore and follow the Ravens in the NFL. For those of you who don’t know, the Ravens have a bit of history with injury problems as well. Going into the second year of his rookie contract, running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a season ending ACL tear in the 2021/22 season, and spent the majority of the year reconditioning himself following a lengthy spell on the sidelines. He returned in 2022 only to need a second clean-up surgery on his knee, limiting him to a few late-season appearances. After a minor injury in preseason, Dobbins came out ready to make his mark and remind the league why he was once considered a top prospect at running back and a critical part of the Ravens offensive plan. On Sunday the Ravens opened their season against the Houston Texans, and Dobbins tore his Achilles tendon.

Brutal. Dobbins is now 25 years old, entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he has barely played. He faces a season on the sidelines healing an extremely severe injury and a summer of uncertainty to come.

What’s the next step for players like Dobbins and Morey?

It’s a tough question to answer. One thing that never seems to be the answer is giving up, and why? The common denominator for all jobs: money.

Sitting on the injury table, whether it be in Dortmund or Baltimore, these guys are still getting paid. Athletes spend their entire college careers, or in the case of footballers, their entire childhood and adolescence, preparing to be professional athletes. Their body is an asset in which they have made an enormous investment, and selling off the stock simply isn’t an option. If athletes throw in the towel because of their injuries, what pays the bills?

The alternative is similarly daunting. Continue to push your body back into shape, knowing that your propensity for injury has limited the number of teams who will take a risk on you. Younger, healthier players are ready for those spots that you vacated at their age, and winning them back will be challenging, requiring you to push your body harder. For many of these athletes, the long term ramifications are a distant concern, but badgering your tendons and muscle fibers over and over will have lasting impacts. Games like football and American football have developed massively in the last two decades, with fixture congestion and high contact increasing the strain on a players body. It’s hard to predict how the frequency of injury during a playing career will add up later in life.

What’s my point? I dunno. I don’t think Mateu Morey should retire, but he should consider what’s best for him, as should anyone when they sustain an injury. I really like Morey; he is not the fastest or the tallest right back, he doesn’t win physical battles, but he tries to play smart, manage his space, and use his technical ability to escape tight situations. As a scrawny former fullback myself, I admire that. Still, we only get one body, and we have to be honest about how much it will realistically endure. At 23 years of age, Morey has seen more physical damage than most people will in a lifetime.

What does Morey’s injury mean for his career, and BVB this season? Let us know in the comments.