Willie Gay deserves better than the lazy ‘injury-prone’ label

Nov 8, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (50) is introduced before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. (50) is introduced before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

It didn’t take long for the labeling to begin.

The moment news broke on Thursday that the K.C. Chiefs had placed linebacker Willie Gay on injured reserve, social media and internet commenters began to do what they do so well: skew any sense of perspective, abandon any nuance, and start to apply labels in the most reductionistic and irresponsible way they can.

It’s inaccurate. It’s lazy. It’s also par for the course (wrong sport). For some reason, those things don’t matter. It happens anyway.

If you missed the news and/or the resulting response, you should know that Gay suffered a toe injury a week ago in the Chiefs’ win over the Minnesota Vikings that has lingered for several days. Earlier this week, head coach Andy Reid said the team would need a few days or even up to a week to get clarity on how long Gay would be out, but he expressed hope that he could return sooner than later. Then came the news on Thursday that Gay would be placed on IR.

Applying lazy labels like ‘injury prone’ to Willie Gay is wrong.

From there, it didn’t take long before the responses began to pile up that Gay was injury prone. Tweets comparing him to Sammy Watkins were plentiful and even Adalberto Mondesi references could be found in any thread. We’d point to these folks, but their voices don’t deserve amplification. Suffice it to say that a simple search on Twitter in any Willie Gay injury news thread or even our own comments here to the news story tell the tale.

For the sake of at least understanding the “other” side, let me say that I understand an emotional reaction. We’re all geared up for what we hope is a fun and very memorable season. It’s very exciting to think of a new linebacking corps with consecutive second round picks like Gay and Bolton flying around in the heart of the defense. It’s easy to hear bad news and say something in frustration.

But the way that some narratives end up sticking, especially unfair ones, is that they’re parroted in moments like this. Maybe even this defense will be part of the problem in that I’m bringing even more perspective to something I think is incorrectly applied by bringing more attention to it. But the hope is that pointing to and analyzing these quick responses, these hot takes, will maybe make us all think critically about what is real and what is emotional.

That’s important because here is the truth. The maximum amount of games played for Willie Gay so far is 16 in the regular season and he’s played in all 16. Did he miss last year’s postseason? Yes, he did. All three games. Then he’s set to miss the first three games of this season due to another injury entirely.

So far, Gay has had a knee injury that cost him the postseason and then a toe injury to start the next season. That’s it. Travis Kelce missed 2.5 times as many games when he was lost for a full season during his rookie year. Patrick Mahomes missed two games with a knee injury, has left another with a concussion, and needed toe surgery this offseason. Tyreek Hill, Juan Thornhill, and Tyrann Mathieu have all missed several games apiece due to a significant injury over the years.

Some players are jinxed. There’s no other way to explain it. There are talented players who somehow turn into ironmen in the very same sport that tears others apart—even those on the same team with the same medical staff and training regimen. It’s sad that Sammy Watkins has dealt with the injuries he has. It’s sad that Dee Ford never could seem to stay healthy for a full season. It’s certainly nothing wrong with them as persons or players. It’s just the nature of the game and the randomness of it all.

At the same time, Gay is nowhere near the status of those players. Watkins and Ford (and others like them) had season after season of consistent injury frustrations—and again, that’s hardly their fault, as if any player wishes to be so unlucky. Gay banged his head in the winter and hurt his toe in the summer and that’s the sum of his issues so far. Making anything more of this is just wrong and leads to lazy labels that somehow stick in the digital era, where things are sharable with a simple click.

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