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Brandon Belt and the insidious mythology of the “injury-prone”

Assigning personal responsibility to injuries is messed up and people need to cut it out.

Arizona Diamondback v San Francisco Giants Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Brandon Belt sure has had some bad luck in his baseball career. Grant talks a little about the injuries here, I talk about other aspects of it here. The point is, not only does the man have to deal with massive amounts of misguided fan-hate, he has to deal with some disproportionately bad luck to boot.

On Friday night, Belt was hit in the head by a baseball, once again. One of the ongoing themes of the Belt Wars is that he’s “injury-prone.”

This is a term I have come to loathe almost as much as I loathe the concept of the designated hitter and “playing the game the right way.”

“Injury-prone” implies a certain level of personal responsibility on the player for getting injured. As though there was something fundamentally lacking about their body that caused them to get injured. It implies that they could have done something about it, but chose not to. Where exactly have I heard those types of arguments before?

Anyway, when someone says “but he’s injury-prone!” to me, all I can hear is “BUT MY FANTASY TEAM!” because that’s about the same level of dissociated thinking.

What exactly is an athlete supposed to be doing to avoid that kind of injury?

What was Hunter Pence supposed to do to prevent getting his hand broken in spring training two years ago, leading to all sorts of other related issues he’s had to rebound from? Yet he’s now considered “injury-prone.”

And this goes for other sports as well, not just baseball.

For example, former Golden State Warrior Andrew Bogut has a reputation for being “injury-prone” because he’s had a lot of major injuries. Most recently, a season ending injury less than two minutes into his first game with a team he’d just joined. Sure, it’s all funny jokes because that team was the Cleveland Cavaliers, but this goes to a bigger point.

The comparison that was always drawn was how his now former teammate, Stephen Curry, managed to fix the ankle issues that had kept him inactive and reduced his paycheck for years. Whereas Bogut never could stop getting injured so that must be a personal flaw.

That implies that all injuries can be avoided, though, and that’s some kind of twisted logic in a game of chance where collisions can end a career at the drop of a hat.

Athletes put their bodies on the line every single day. Especially the most physically demanding positions, such as a catcher in baseball, or a center in basketball. There’s not a lot you can do to condition your body for the kind of injury Buster Posey faced in 2011, or many of the hard-luck injuries Andrew Bogut has faced over his career.

Or any of the objects thrown at Brandon Belt’s head.

Let’s look at Belt, specifically. He has missed a few games here and there with general illnesses, but the vast majority of his injuries have been caused by other people.

Who among us wouldn’t be considered “injury-prone” if people were throwing baseballs or knees at our heads?

Some solemnity, for those who lack the capacity to see the humanity of professional athletes:

This is, of course, speculation, but it is not without merit. Brandon Belt has been hit in the head by many baseballs and limbs. Getting hit in the head a lot is very bad - just look at the studies being done about football players.

People brush it off because they want to continue to enjoy the sport they like, but these things are very serious.

A few years ago, I reconnected with an acquaintance of mine from high school. In the midst of conversation one day, things got awkward as he attempted to ask me a question he was uncomfortable with. He asked, “Were we good friends in high school?” I was taken aback, because we barely knew each other in high school, and I told him as much. He replied that because of head injuries sustained while playing football in high school, he lost a significant amount of his memories of those years.

Concussions are jerks. And players who get them are not weak, they are not doing anything wrong. They are not “injury-prone.” And they are not a hindrance to their team or your blasted fantasy team. They are victims of accidents at best, or needlessly flawed systems at worst.

In a system where players on the disabled list are already treated like pariahs by other players, we as fans don’t need to add to this by talking about them as though their only worth is as a contract, or as a part of a fantasy team, or a productive piece of a competitive team.

The next time you want to talk about a player’s value in terms of being injured, or being “injury-prone” just...don’t. Or give us HIPAA authorizations for your medical/employment history so we can compare accordingly.

“Joe T. Giants-Fan called in sick 22 times on Monday mornings over his last three years. Must be ‘flu-like symptoms,’ am I right? And what about this broken foot he got while stumbling home drunk late at night? Better dock his pay.”

I know there is a certain subset of fans who don’t like to be reminded of the fact that athletes are humans. You know, because they make a lot of money so they are beholden to the fans. Or because it makes the sport less fun when you remember that there are actual people playing the game. But guess what?

I watched my favorite baseball player get hit in the head on Friday night and that is very scary. He has a wife and a small child. And a dog. He also has a history of brain injuries. He is only 29 years old and his career is now potentially in jeopardy because a rookie pitcher accidentally threw a baseball at his head. And it is not his fault.

So stop blaming him and stop blaming other athletes for getting hurt. They are not your employees, they are not your coworkers, they are not your Sims or Pokemon.

They are human beings who are employed to play a game that you enjoy watching. They didn’t ask to miss time due to injuries. No one does.