NFL Thursday games under fire in injury crisis

Sherman, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, was one of around 15 players who finished the game hurt or injured.

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Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after an injury on a play in the second half of the NLF game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona play

Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after an injury on a play in the second half of the NLF game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona

(Getty/AFP/File)
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When Richard Sherman became the latest high-profile NFL star to suffer a season-ending injury in Seattle's bruising victory over Arizona last week, it was not long before a familiar culprit found itself in the dock.

Sherman, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, was one of around 15 players who finished the game hurt or injured.

For Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, the blame should be put squarely on the scheduling of the game on Thursday.

Since its introduction in 2006, "Thursday Night Football" has gradually expanded to incorporate 14 games, a period spanning most of the regular season.

For players required to suit up on Thursdays, however, that often means putting their battered bodies into the firing line while they are still carrying knocks from Sunday games four days earlier.

"Guys don't have time to recover," Baldwin told reporters after Seattle's 22-16 win over the Cardinals last week. "Hard to recover in four days."

Asked if the injury tally was evidence that Thursday games place an intolerable burden on players, Baldwin said: "It's Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit Z. Thursday night football should be illegal."

This week it will be the turn of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans to perform a tight turnaround after playing on Sunday.

Veteran Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is adamant that Thursday night games should be scrapped.

"It's miserable, it's terrible," he said in an interview with a CBS Sports Radio station in Pittsburgh on Monday.

"They need to get rid of this game I think. Just play on Mondays and Sundays. It's so tough on the guys. You're beat up, you're banged up. It's a very violent, physical game we play.

"You've got to let your body recover a little bit. Even a week, you're still not fully recovered by Sunday to Sunday, you're still dealing with bumps and bruises and things just continue to build up throughout the season.

"When you go on such a short week, man, it's just not good. I don't know many players that like it."

Money talks

Despite the unpopularity of playing on Thursdays, it remains to be seen whether the criticism will be heard by the NFL, a multi-billion-dollar industry which remains America's most lucrative professional sport.

The most recent television deal for games on Thursday saw CBS and NBC pay roughly $900 million over two years to broadcast five games each per season.

The players' share of that revenue is reported to be in the region of $225 million. Any move to cut Thursday games would almost certainly hit players in the pocket to that amount.

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the player's union, the NFLPA, acknowledged that players would need to accept that any cut to Thursday games would mean a loss of revenue.

It is possible market forces may yet dictate a reduction in Thursday games.

The current lucrative television deal ends this season, and with ratings having declined sharply over the same period, it is uncertain that any new deal will be struck at the same level.

In the meantime, some believe that the NFL should consider offering a bye to teams due to play on a Thursday, giving them a free weekend on the preceding Sunday.

"That's one option I think is very fixable," said John Wilckens, an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Wilckens, who has served as the team physician to the US Navy gridiron team for 15 years, said he believes offering a bye could be a solution.

"If you have a bye week on the Sunday so that you have a break before you play on a Thursday, there are ways that you can be smart about it," he told AFP.

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