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Buster Posey and the frailty of our superstars

The future Hall of Famer suffered the second concussion of his baseball career, making one wonder: at what cost?

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San Francisco Giants v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Like many of you, my friends and I were watching the Warriors-Rockets game on Wednesday when Kevin Durant pulled up limping and had everyone immediately assuming the worst. After we all woke up from our panic-induced comas, we talked about the many devastating injuries that players regularly experience, and how debilitating something like a torn ACL would be for those who don’t have access to world-class medical care and physical therapy.

However, all those injuries have a hidden cost for players, as my one fancy doctor friend pointed out. Professional athletes are much more likely than the common population to develop, for example, arthritis at an early age; indeed, ACL injuries can increase the risk of developing arthritis within a decade by more than 50 percent.

Head injuries are even more deleterious, and perhaps none more so than concussions. Their ubiquity makes it easy to forget that they are literally traumatic brain injuries. And they’re accumulative—the more concussions you suffer, the more likely you’ll experience moderate-to-severe long-term effects, including:

  • Trouble concentrating and sleeping
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings, irritability, depression, and other personality changes
  • Increased sensitivity to light and noise

Last week, Buster Posey suffered the second concussion of his career—and given players’ tendency to play through injuries without telling anybody, I feel obligated to add—that we know of.

At this point, you don’t need to follow football to know the severity that concussions can have on players. You just need to be a Giants fan. Brandon Belt, who’s had four concussions over his career, admitted to dealing with mood swings and depression after suffering his most recent one in 2017. Mac Williamson’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn, wrote about the heart-wrenching experience of coping with Williamson’s concussion symptoms. And of course, former Giants catcher Mike Matheny chose to retire rather than risk the potential consequences of another concussion.

Posey undoubtedly understands what’s at stake for his long-term health, if this quote from a recent Q&A is any indication:

When you’re dealing with the brain, you’ve got to be cautious. I value who I am and will be as a husband and father, first and foremost. At the same time, I enjoy doing my job and plan on doing my job. These next few days, I’ll have some time to talk to some different doctors and researchers.

If it’s easy to forget that concussions are brain injuries, then it’s even easier to forget that players are, well, people, with families of their own and 30+ years of life after baseball. Playing the game isn’t worth the physical and emotional toll of lifelong brain trauma.

In that same interview, Posey says he hopes he’s able to come back after his seven-day IL stint is up, but if I’m being completely honest, I hope he takes a month. Too many times, we’ve seen Giants players return from concussions seemingly healthy only to find, whoopsie, they’re still dealing with headaches or dizziness or trouble seeing. And not even a baseball demigod like Posey is safe from the insidious effects of concussions.

It won’t surprise me if the clamors to move Posey to another position start to get louder. The risk of another errant foul tip just isn’t worth it—not for Posey, not for the Giants, and certainly not for his family. And the last thing anyone wants is Matheny 2.0.

Get better, Buster, and come back soon.

Just not too soon.