Inside Slant: ACL connection to shoes?

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Week 8 brought two more confirmed ACL tears in the NFL: Receivers Sidney Rice (Seattle Seahawks) and Travis Benjamin (Cleveland Browns). Based on research that ESPN Stats & Information introduced last week, there are now as many players with confirmed ACL injuries on injured reserve -- 32 -- as there were for the entire 2012 season.

(In 2011, the total was 25. These figures don't include players whose injuries were suspected torn ACLs but were never publicly confirmed.)

Why the spike? I suggested a couple of theories to start the discussion, including the league's emphasis on helmet-to-helmet penalties, which some players say has led to more low hits. Many football traditionalists are blaming the reduced offseason schedule, which could have left ligaments less conditioned when training camp began.

To that list, let's add a suggestion broached by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a fan forum last weekend in London.

Asked about the number of ACL injuries this season, Goodell said the league is targeting shoes -- both the type and the choice relative to the playing surface -- as a possible culprit. (Thanks for the tip, @grantsales.)

Here's what Goodell said, via a partial transcript of the event: "In fact, what we have seen is that most of the ACL injuries are non-contact injuries. We have a Foot and Ankle Committee that looks at shoes and performance. One of the things that we are really focused on [is] … sometimes we are looking for the best-performing shoe and you are sacrificing something on the safety side.

"The other thing is playing surfaces -- making sure that we have a shoe that is proper for that surface. That is what we are studying."

Some of you, I'm sure, will place that response in context with the NFL's ongoing give-and-take with players over the safety issue. Players can pick their own shoe type, and theoretically, they could choose products that maximize speed at the expense of support. It's worth noting that the relationship between shoes and ACL injuries has recently been a topic in the NBA, most recently when Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012.

Is Goodell blaming players for the spike in torn ACLs? I don't think so, at least not explicitly. At this point, I think we should interpret his answer as an acknowledgment of the myriad possibilities, and that if there is blame to be assessed, it could deserve to go both ways.

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