The Six Million Dollar Man (now that’s funny)
It sounds like a video game villain, or some kind of Cyborg soldier. Some half man, half machine. But it’s not – it’s a long skinny muscle that runs down the inside of your thigh, and until yours is injured, you pretty much don’t know it’s there.
But once it is injured, it can bring your playing career to a complete halt, which is what happened to 6’6” linebacker Brian Muldoon, who asked that we not use his real name. It’s a groin muscle, and for years he harnessed the best available practices in medicine and science to manage this recurring injury to his gracilis muscle.
The university and pro doctors were all too happy to refer him to their own doctors, but he spent money out-of-pocket on the best in the business to understand what causes a gracilis to disconnect from the bone, and how to nurse it back to health as quickly as possible.
You see, for a football player, his body is his instrument, like a trumpet is to a trumpet player.
No trumpet, no gig.
"Training was my thing," Brain said. "I was notorious of finding ways to increase my basic athleticism. For a kid who wants to play in the NFL, my body is my product. I had a number of injuries, most football players did. Any time you get an injury, there are two ways to look at it, you either let the trainer deal with it or you take ownership of the injury, and you take 100% ownership of it."
"Football is different than any other job. You use your body as a tool. It’s different than in the business world. In business, if your product isn’t as good as other products, they will move on from the product. But in this case, the product is me. I can’t compartmentalize and say it’s not me. When it’s football, and you’re injured, it is you."
Brain was a three-year starter in college, staring his freshman year. In the beginning, he believed his university cared for him more than anyone, and wanted his success.
But after his first groin pull, he started to see things differently.
"I was quick to realize that what they do isn’t always best for me," he said. "I realized there was a huge political game to be played in college athletics. I think I had 8 surgeries while playing. The school usually picks the doctor; I would just say I’m not comfortable with the doctor you picked. And I got a lot of flack for it. Their hip doc might be $15k, but the specialist might be $30k. I picked the doctor."
But Brian didn’t stop there. He wanted to understand the exact nature of his chronic pain, and every possible modality to increase the functionality of his chronically injured and painful muscle.
"I narrowed it down to the gracilis muscle," he said. "I was tearing the muscles off my pubic synthesis bone."
"I would pinpoint the muscle through acupuncture. I would work with acupuncturists, if a muscle grabs and it’s really painful, that’s where to attack. From there, I would look at how that muscle functions—it's a big stability muscle or contracting muscle."
His athletic department’s Physical Therapist would have him on their own regimen, and he would always have a side Physical Therapist that he paid out of his own money to monitor him.
Taking care of his gracilis became a full-time job outside of practices, meetings and games.
"I always knew that there is no doubt that football is dangerous, he said. "If you don’t think it's a dangerous sport, look at all the injuries that occur."
"I was never naïve that these injuries weren’t detrimental to the self, especially later in life. The fact that the concussions were… it’s such a hard thing to manage because you can’t see a concussion, but there’s these repetitive hits that happen over and over again, and the part that really bothered me was that the technique, which was specifically to use your head, even in college, from players to coaches, 60 times again, versus let’s keep our head out of the game and use our hands."
"They actually taught us to use our heads this way."
It’s hard to believe that so much attention can be paid to keep a guy on the field in response to a muscle tear, but so little conscience attention is paid to long-term brain injury.
“Never let them see you weaken.” That’s something my father said. “It’s all over if they see you weaken.”
On the one hand, I get it. A chronic injury can weaken your performance, your confidence, and your long-term prognosis in the game. Never let them know how injured you are. It’s necessary for your survival.
I used to think that science was in the business of liberation, freeing us from the constraints of these bodies that inevitably are going to start to fail us. But now maybe not so much, because now I imagine him smashing it into a 6’1” 250 pound linebacker like Ray Lewis, right in the sweet spot. Kind of like Ray Lewis. In this video.
And I can’t imagine the gracilis being the most worrisome thing on my mind.
Everything you need to know about the gracilis muscle but were afraid to ask.