Spike Was Right All Along: It’s Gotta Be The Shoes

LaDainian Tomlinson’s case of turf toe may be the most famous foot in football at the moment, but the NFL is so puzzled by a recent spate of foot and ankle injuries that they’ve formed a committee to look into the causes, à la the concussion studies. But a growing number of doctors, players and trainers are pointing the blame squarely downward: toward the shoes.

LaDainian Tomlinson

Marcia C. Smith
looked into the issue in yesterday’s ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER and found that it’s becoming an issue across the board - players at all levels, wearing all brands of shoes are going down with sometimes inexplicable injuries. The Chargers have been hit especially hard, with Tomlinson and Antonio Gates missing time. In Gates’ case, Nike even admits the shoes were at fault.

When Nike first started troubleshooting foot injuries, Jim Ford, the director of the company’s cleated footwear division, said many hobbled athletes had made “poor footwear decisions,” opting for the lightest, fastest shoes.

Ford noted that Gates, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end, was wearing Nikes from the “speed series” (lightest) line designed for players weighing less than 230 pounds.

“Those shoes weren’t designed to handle a guy like him,” said Ford.

While helmet technology has evolved to deal with the realities of a stronger, harder hitting game with larger players, most football shoes are designed with comfort and speed in mind. This means lighter materials and thinner soles — less protection overall. As Smith notes, the old boots football players used to wear were made of leather, and lasted entire seasons. Today’s models are meant to be thrown away after a few games. So it shouldn’t be coincidental that injuries are on the rise.

UCLA Quarterback Ben Olson has broken his foot twice this season:

The first time, I planted and it broke (during spring practice), and the second time, I took a step and heard a pop. Everyone thought I got stepped on but I didn’t. It’s freak because I never had foot injuries before…The training staff said that the shoe wasn’t supportive enough and that I twisted my foot too much, and that’s why this stuff happens. I was running a sprint to get open when it happened.

The root of the issue is, as always, money. Shoes are big business. Helmet designers like Riddell and Schutt design for a limited market: football players. But Nike and Reebok make shoes for public consumption. Your average weekend sneaker isn’t built to take the punishment that NFL players go through, yet they’re essentially the same models. So what might be lighter, faster, better looking and bigger sellers might not be what’s best for players’ health.

Take Chargers center Nick Hardwick. After missing three games with a sprained foot, he began wrapping tape around the middle of his shoe for extra support. Unfortunately the tape covered the shoe’s Swoosh, and Nike dropped him.

“I don’t think that anybody thinks about footwear the way they worry about helmets or knee braces until they hurt their feet,” said Hardwick.