By Samuel Njoku
Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel once stated that he was addicted to football. It wasn’t the money or the fame that keeps him begging for more. It’s everything else. The fans, the big hits, the comradery, and the sweet taste of victory help make football one of the most addictive drugs on the planet earth. And he’s not alone. Almost any football player will tell you that being away from football for too long can be just as excruciatingly painful as any injury on the football field. Just ask Dennis Pitta.
Since 2013, the former BYU Cougar has had 2 major hip injuries. The first occurred during training camp when he suffered a hip dislocation and fracture. He was able to return and appeared to suffer no physical setbacks from the injury. Baltimore was comfortable enough to offer Pitta a 5 year, $32 million extension the following year. But less than a month into the following season, Pitta dislocated his hip once again and has not seen the football field since.
Now, midway through the 2015 season, Dennis Pitta is attempting to do what some have advised him against. He’s attempting to return to the football field, in hopes of revitalizing a career with so much promise. With many considering his injury to be a career ending one, Pitta is taking a huge leap of faith in order to continue to play the game he loves. But what are the risks, and how big are they?
I spoke with Dr. David J. Chao, MD, who is a former NFL head team physician for 17+ years, Orthopedic Surgeon and Sirius XM Sports Medical Analyst for details on what hip dislocation actually entails and what it may mean for someone making a return to football.
“The reason that hip dislocation doesn’t happen very often is because the socket is really a socket,” stated Dr. Chao. “The hip is a true ball and socket joint and is very stable. Whereas the shoulder is more of a golf ball on a tee, which is why dislocation occurs so much more often. There’s good bony stability in the hip. But because of that stability, when it does dislocate, it’s usually a huge car accident or something similar that causes the hip to dislocate – at least for the first time.”
Football has often been described as a series of car accidents occurring every 40 seconds. Pitta’s first injury back in 2013 was indeed due to a collision, however his second dislocation occurred without any contact. That would lead one to believe that the second injury wasn’t as serious. But Dr. Chao points out that simply isn’t the case.
“What bodes poorly for someone like Dennis Pitta is that it’s the second time he’s suffered a dislocation. There was no real trauma other than a misstep. Most people will say it’s better because he didn’t get crushed, but it’s actually worse because the easier it is for the hip to dislocate the more unstable it is.”
Dr. David Chao made it clear that he hasn’t had Dennis Pitta as a patient but with his extensive knowledge and experience with sports injury, he is well versed in what a player goes through post hip dislocation and the risks that accompany any thoughts of a comeback. So what are the risks?
“The first thing he is risking is instant recurrent instability, where the hip comes out of the socket again. He also risks further damage to his articular cartilage either from wear and tear or further trauma. Not to mention the risk of avascular necrosis, a condition in which the head of the ball dies. There could be some of that already, but the risk of this intensifies with further usage.”
He continued to explain that even if Dennis Pitta defied the odds and returned to action, the risk of “long-term arthritis” is very real. That can’t be overstated enough because of the implications it holds for Pitta and the Ravens. It’s because of this that Dr. Chao believes if Pitta doesn’t play for Baltimore, it’s “very unlikely” he will ever play anywhere else. This is due to liability that would shift to another franchise if an attempt at play was made elsewhere. In other words, this is likely Pitta’s last shot at football; something he made clear when speaking to reporters.
“I would like to think that if I can’t make it back this year, then what’s going to change next year,” stated Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta. “For me, in my mind, it’s kind of like I’m working to get back this year; and if I can’t, then that might be it.”
In the end, Dennis Pitta is well aware of what’s best for himself. He’ll do what makes himself happy and will most assuredly get the support he needs from loved ones to do just that. But if you want a doctor’s opinion, the best course of action is as clear as day.
There are dozens of players on the Ravens and hundreds more around the league that probably shouldn’t be playing football due to injury. But as Urschel, Pitta, and many football players across the globe can attest, there is nothing quite as addicting as playing football. Nothing like giving your all for your teammates, coaches and fans.
Dennis Pitta and many players like him believe that the rewards far outweigh the risks; but in his case it may be the other way around.
Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. Samuel Njoku is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.