The N.F.L. is a machine. The operators of the machine pull its levers more frantically every season, pushing it past its breaking point. So the league has stockpiled interchangeable spare parts. The broken ones are seamlessly replaced and the machine keeps rolling. The old pieces are discarded and left to rust in a scrap heap.
This harsh reality is softened by human relationships. Football players spend every day with the members of their team’s medical staff. They learn to trust them. The athletic trainers nurse the players back to health when they are injured. The team doctors perform their operations. Friendships are formed and bonds are created. But underneath it all hums the machine.
Athletic trainers are paid to keep the machine humming. The long-term health of the individual player is not their first concern; the health of the team is. The faster a trainer gets his players back on the field, the more likely he’ll be to keep his job. Trainers are under pressure to do this by masking a player’s pain with drugs and designing a hasty rehabilitation schedule, even if it inevitably trades one injury for the next.