He was just another football player with just another injury and now he was in the hospital. The room was small and quiet and his fiancee sat in the chair alongside his bed, saying nothing.

Karl Bernard had never spent a night in a hospital before. Just one day earlier he had been a healthy, strong running back with a chance at a future and then he cut the wrong way and his right knee exploded and he crumpled to the ground and his leg was bent at an angle so horrible his Lions teammates had to look away. “Severe knee injury,” the trainers said into their walkie- talkies, and he was taken by ambulance to Henry Ford Hospital and they gave him a white robe and he was placed in bed, flat on his back, and he had not moved since.

“It was a just a routine play,” he said now, softly, his head resting on the pillow, “in practice. That’s what really frustrates me. Nobody hit me. I mean, we were wearing shorts. It wasn’t like the last five seconds of a game and I’m going for the winning touchdown. This was a Monday afternoon in a no- contact practice in shorts. . . . “And now I’m here.”

He was still wearing the robe. A blanket covered his leg, which was wrapped in a light green cast from the ankle to the thigh. Bernard, 23, sighed and looked at his visitor and then looked over to the window. Somewhere out there, his teammates were practicing, even now.

And he was here.

“Things had been going so good,” he said. “When it happened, it wasn’t like I said, ‘Why me?’ It was more like ‘Why now?’ ” No guarantee he’ll play again

Karl Bernard is not a well-known player. He is a second- year running back with good moves and a good attitude and a singing voice so sweet that when he was a rookie the veterans made him sing all the time during training camp meals. He is one of those gentle souls seemingly misplaced in a football uniform. Yet, he says, he loves the game.

“Last night I dreamed I was playing against Seattle, and I cut, and I woke up because I was moving my leg and it really hurt. I can’t help it. I always dream about football.”

He paused. His fiancee smiled. “I do,” he said.

There was a knock on the door and a young doctor walked in. He was tall with brown hair and he pulled out a clipboard and said he needed Bernard’s signature on the “Permission To Operate” form. He said it was also his job to explain things that could possibly go wrong, so the patient would know.

“First of all, we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to play again. . .
.”

Bernard inhaled, then let out a deep sigh.

“I also have to tell you there is a chance of infection with any operation. . . . “

His beeper sounded. He picked up the phone and called in. Bernard stared at the paper silently.

“Sorry,” the doctor continued, hanging up. “All right. There’s always the possibility of a blood transfusion and because of that there’s always the risk of diseases transmitted through blood, such as hepatitis or AIDS, although the blood here is screened for all that.”

“Oh, maaan,” whispered Bernard.

“There is also a good chance you’ll develop arthritis in that knee because of what you did to it.” “I will?”

“Well, you blew it out pretty good. . . .

“Of course, the worst complication could be death. But you could have a heart attack right here and now, too, or you could have a heart attack in the operating room. I’m just telling you this because I have to. I wouldn’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.” The reality of sports

There are 60 or 70 players in Lions training camp, all hoping for glory. They practiced Monday, the day Bernard went down, and they will practice today, the day he goes under the knife. They are all just one play away from this hospital room and they know it and they try not to think about it and that is why when Bernard was carried off the field on a stretcher, his leg wrapped in a splint, many of them tried not to make eye contact, as if it were bad luck.

One bad cut. The knee exploded.

And Karl Bernard, a warm, enthusiastic, promising player, will not play again this season, and he may not play again, period.

This is the part you do not see. This is the reality of professional sports.

“Does what I said make sense?”

“Yes, Doc. When is the operation?”

“Nine a.m.”

“Nine a.m. All right.”

“Don’t worry.”

“No. I won’t.”

“OK?”

“OK.”

“If all goes well, you’ll be on crutches by Thursday, or Friday at the latest.”

He was just another football player with just another injury and in a year if he doesn’t come back people will forget his name. He signed the paper and the doctor said goodby and Karl Bernard was quiet for a moment.

“All this for playing around with an oblong pigskin,” he said, finally, staring at the ceiling.

His fiancee forced a smile.

“But it’s a great game,” he whispered, his eyes moist now, “it really is.”

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