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NFL Sees Spate Of Injuries. Is The Pandemic To Blame?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Another story now. The NFL's is New York Giants confirmed today that star running back Saquon Barkley will miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL in his right knee. The devastating injury was one of many yesterday in what was one of the most brutal days in memory in an already brutal game. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: NFL players and watchers will tell you pro football also is a beautiful sport. But yesterday, it was the brutal side of bodies hitting and twisting and lunging that made news.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER #1: At the 46, but there’s flags everywhere, and Barkley is now down and hurt again.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTS ANNOUNCER #2: Writhing in pain down there.

GOLDMAN: Saquon Barkley wasn't the only NFL star to suffer the dreaded ACL tear heard here on CBS. The San Francisco 49ers say it happened to Nick Bosa, a key player on the team's outstanding defensive line. After beating the New York Jets, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan went through a grim roll call in his postgame press conference.

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KYLE SHANAHAN: All right, guys. Injuries - Bosa, the knee, who's out; Solomon Thomas - knee, out; Garoppolo - ankle, out; Mostert - knee, out; Tevin Coleman - knee, out.

GOLDMAN: And the list goes on throughout the NFL. The Athletics Lindsay Jones tweeted she counted 40 players who left Sunday's games and didn't return. In an email, an NFL spokesman referred to the spate of injuries as unrelated. But maybe there were connections. The NFL was notable in that it started on time during the coronavirus pandemic. But the run-up to the regular season was affected. There were no organized practices before the start of training camp. Teams relied heavily on players working out on their own, but that was hard during the pandemic with gyms closed. And then there were no preseason games or scrimmages between teams. In a recent essay titled "Prioritizing Player Safety In A Pandemic," union president JC Tretter, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, said following an extended layoff after the NFL's 2011 lockout of players, injuries increased by 25%. The NFL didn't make anyone available for comment. The players union says it wants to get through next weekend's games before it analyzes injury data as a way to figure out possible trends or whether NFL players merely had a really bad day.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.