Air Force RB Devin Rushing injured an ankle on the Falcons' second day of full-pads practice in August.
He said he feared he had broken his ankle during an Oklahoma drill. Rushing said someone had grabbed his facemask and brought him down into another defender on the ground and his ankle got rolled up on.
It wasn't broken, however. The Colorado Springs Gazette said it was a Grade 2 sprain and he was back on the practice field after missing 10 days.
But he's not on the field with his new number. He switched from No. 31 to No. 3 before the season and was told that he had to earn his jersey back.
"They took my jersey," Rushing told the Gazette. "I talked to the equipment manager and he said my jersey is still in there with Rushing written on the back, but I've got to earn it back."
Why? Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he wants "tough, durable guys" on his team. Rushing was projected to be the Falcons' starting tailback during the season and is now practicing with the second unit.
"I think at every position we're going to have tough, durable guys," Calhoun said. "If you aren't, you're going to get us beat. I think the other thing is you have a built-in alibi if you're a guy who gets hurt easily. If you're a guy who gets hurt easily, you need to find another activity where there's not contact involved."
We've all rolled an ankle (or in some cases, multiple times), so you know how painful an ankle sprain can be. And Grade 2 sprains don't simply happen easily, either. It's the middle level of the three grades of sprains and according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Grade 2 sprains have moderated tenderness and swelling, decreased range of motion and possible instability.
Rushing is a running back. Running backs need stable ankles to function.
Per the Gazette, injured players don't simply wear red jerseys at practice either. At Friday's scrimmage, players in red jerseys sat in the stands instead of on the sidelines. Rushing's situation may not be that unique.
"They go to meetings," Calhoun said. "I just think you either add to the chemistry or take from the chemistry. There's no in between. If you're a red jersey, I just don't want anybody sucking the life out of everybody else who is working. Who is able to go out there even if they have an itch somewhere?"
Asked if he saw anything wrong with this policy, essentially excommunicating an injured player from the program until he heals, Calhoun offered only this: "I think a warrior wants to be in battle, and we want warriors."
Did we mention that the treatment for a Grade 2 sprain, according to the AAOS, is immobilization with an air splint and physical therapy for range of motion exercises? Has anyone ever immobilized an itch with an air splint?
Calhoun's comments sound typical of an old-school football coach who only sees the world through the eyes of 1960s football stereotypes. And while that thinking can still be common among many football coaches, it doesn't make it any less ridiculous.
But when you realize that he's the football coach at a service academy where young men and women enroll to prepare for possible tours of duty serving the United States in military capacities, the ridiculousness is ratcheted up. If there is any coach that should know the definition of warrior, it's Calhoun.
Football is not war. The two aren't even comparable.
We're not arguing that toughness isn't a virtue. The ability to handle pain isn't a bad thing at all. However, much like everything in life, it can be taken to an extreme. Being practical about injuries isn't weakness. It's common sense. This is football. It's a game.
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