Was Kevin Ware’s Injury the Most Gruesome in Sports Television?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 1 2013 6:34 PM

What Is Sport’s Most Gruesome Televised Injury?

How Kevin Ware’s broken leg fares in the worst possible competitive bracket.

Trainers check on Louisville guard Kevin Ware (5) after an injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke.
Trainers check on Louisville guard Kevin Ware after his compound leg fracture during the Midwest Regional final Sunday against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Photo by Michael Conroy/AP

University of Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware suffered a brutal injury during a game last night against Duke, leading some people to speculate that it was one of the most gruesome injuries in sports history. Is that true?

It depends on your definition of gruesome. Certainly, Ware’s injury was horrific. After he leapt to try to block a shot, Ware fell on his right leg, breaking his tibia in two places and forcing the bone to jut six inches out of his leg. Ware has a lengthy recovery in front of him, but his injury won’t be career-ending, according to Louisville sports medicine director Fred Hina. A doctor at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where Ware was treated, told the Indianapolis Star that injuries involving protruding bones are rare in sports; they are more common in car accidents.

One of the most famous sports injuries was sustained by Joe Theismann, who contacted Ware on Sunday to offer his sympathy. Theismann’s athletic career ended during a Monday Night Football broadcast in 1985, when the Washington Redskins quarterback suffered a compound fracture in his leg after being tackled by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

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Some injuries that may not look so bad on the field can have even more debilitating results than crushed bones or bloody gashes. For example, Darryl Stingley broke two vertebrae and was paralyzed after being hit by the Oakland Raiders’ Jack Tatum, nicknamed “The Assassin.” Eric LeGrand became paraplegic in 2010 after suffering a severe spinal injury; Maurice Stokes fell on his head during a basketball game in 1958 and was in a coma for 12 years before dying at age 36; and Chucky Mullins, a cornerback for Ole Miss, died a year after a 1989 homecoming-game injury left him quadriplegic.

The year 1989 was a cursed one for sports injuries. Dave Dravecky, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, attempted a comeback after a bout with cancer, only to break his arm while throwing a pitch. As this Reddit thread points out, 1989 produced one of the most bloody on-air sports injuries. Clint Malarchuk, a goalie for the Buffalo Sabres, took a skate to the neck that severed his carotid artery and left him bleeding out massively on the ice. He was saved by his teammate, who had been an Army medic in Vietnam. He received 300 stitches. The Sports Network in Canada reported that 11 fans fainted, two had heart attacks, and three players vomited on the ice after witnessing Malarchuk’s injury.

This accounting doesn’t include players who died on the field, many in the 1900s before safety regulations were put in place. Other sites have compiled more comprehensive lists of famous injuries. Two other Louisville players, one in football and one in basketball, had injuries similar to Kevin Ware’s, and they both play professionally today. So was Ware’s injury gruesome? Yes. But it could have been much worse.

Warning: We've embedded the video of Ware's horrific injury below. As should be clear by now, it's difficult to watch, and isn't recommended for those with weak stomach:

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Jeffrey Sammons of New York University, Ryan Swanson of George Mason University, Richard Davies of the University of Nevada-Reno, and Christopher Radford of the NCAA.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

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