Comparing Kevin Ware's Injury to Joe Theismann's

Jonathan Mahler is a sports columnist for Bloomberg View. He is the author of the best-selling "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning," the basis for the eight-part ESPN mini-series. He also wrote "The Challenge," the winner of the 2009 Scribes Book Award, and "Death Comes to Happy Valley."
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If you didn't happen to see it -- and consider yourself fortunate if you didn't -- you've probably read about it.

During yesterday's NCAA men's basketball tournament game between the University of Louisville and Duke, Louisville's Kevin Ware went up to block a shot and landed awkwardly on one of his legs. He crumpled to the ground instantly, his leg obviously broken.

The injury was so gruesome that the network replayed it only twice, never zooming in on Ware's leg. Not that CBS didn't milk the moment for all of its emotional drama. There were plenty of reaction shots, from Ware's teammates crying and covering their mouths in horror to Louisville Coach Rick Pitino stoically wiping away a tear.

During the CBS halftime show, the conversation turned to the most iconic injury in the history of televised sport, one that also involved a hideously broken leg: former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's. CBS even reported Theismann's tweet about the injury on the air: "My heart goes out to Kevin Ware."

The comparison was inevitable. It is also misleading.

CBS commentator Jim Nantz called Ware's injury the worst he's ever seen in basketball. Theismann's may have been one of the worst ever in football, too: According to an ESPN reader survey, it was the "most shocking moment" in the history of the National Football League.

But basketball is not football. When it comes to the NFL -- and high school and college football, for that matter -- the injuries we don't see may matter more. Those routine hits that are a basic function of the game, that are the game in many respects, can do lasting damage to the brain. They just don't cause the same visceral horror in viewers as watching an athlete's leg snap.

Like everyone else, I hope that Ware's broken leg will heal, and that he'll return to Louisville for his junior year and eventually play in the NBA. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if Theismann's career-ending ending injury 28 years ago was actually a blessing in disguise.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.