Healed players don't hesitate to return

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

Dario Romero, the old war horse, looked over at Jason Barnes, making his way around the dressing room Tuesday, and admitted it must not make much sense to many people.

"He busted his spleen open. That can be fatal. And he's walking around here telling everybody he's going to be back next year."

They don't make much more money in the CFL than the average fan in the stands. They go out there and get themselves into what effectively amounts to an automobile accident several times a season. Yet they can't wait to get back, even from the most serious of injuries, and risk life and limb again.

If you were watching Barnes interact with team-mates in the dressing room yesterday, you'd figure he had suffered a minor injury, not one which could have cost him his life or still could cost him his career.

"It's definitely not going to be the end of me," said the receiver who ruptured a spleen and bruised a lung in an Oct. 8 game in Hamilton.

Released from hospital a week later, Barnes flew back to Edmonton with his father and Tuesday was the first chance the receiver had to interact with teammates.

While he was in hospital, the butcher's bill was high for both the Eskimos and the B.C. Lions, in the game which followed -- and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their game, as well.

But it's like the survivors and the injured live in a suspended state of denial, because they could never play the game if they didn't.

"I'm going to take some time off. Three months. It has to be six months before any contact," said Barnes.

"So I'll be back and ready definitely for training camp next year."

Barnes said he was thankful Dr. John Clarke was on the scene with the Eskimos and made the instant diagnosis correctly.

"He called it right away. When I got off the field he said it was my spleen. I didn't know anything about spleens. I didn't know where a spleen is at. It wasn't until I went to E.R. that I knew how bad it could have been, that it could have been life-threatening.

"They said I had a grade four out of five spleen rupture, that the outside of my spleen didn't burst through the membrane. They said if it actually did, I could have been in a lot of trouble. The doctor said it could have been my life."

But Barnes admits it. The first question he asked wasn't about life or death.

"The first question I asked was how long I was going to be out."

It's almost always the first question.

"I love this game so much.

"I'm definitely going to be back."

He said he watched the play on video just the other day.

"It really didn't look like a hard hit," he said of being hit by Bo Smith and Dylan Barker of the Tiger-Cats at the same time.

"It was definitely a fair hit. There was nothing cheap about it. It's just hard-hitting football. It's part of the game. It's like a freak accident," said Barnes, whose brother Matt plays in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers.

You'd figure you'd seriously want to consider calling it a career when you come that close.

"Not at all. Once I get back out there I won't even think about it. Maybe I'll wear a little more padding, that's all."

Running back Arkee Whitlock, currently out with injury, said it's gotta be like that.

"You have to have a passion for the game. You can't be playing for paydays.

"Football is a sport where you get hurt against your will. I'm hurt because a guy twisted me around and then fell on me. Things like that can happen. We're grown men beating on each other."

Defensive lineman Adam Braidwood is back after missing two full seasons with injuries.

"I had all my surgeries but I was determined I was going to get back and play again. We're different kind of people, I guess. If we were born in the Middle Ages or gladiator days we might be running around with one arm cut off still swinging an axe at somebody or something."

Romaro says there is no explaining it, really.

"Maybe it's because we know what can happen to you. Maybe that heightens the thrill of it. I don't know.

"All I know is that this is a game we love so much and at the same time this game does not love you back."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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