Heartbreaking ‘Hard Knocks’ Clip Shows the Reality of an NFL Injury


For sports fans, injuries are generally viewed as a logistical inconvenience. Perhaps an absence means reshuffling your fantasy team’s roster. Maybe a bad break will leave your favorite team shorthanded down the home stretch. And, in some circumstances, questions about a player’s toughness enter the frame. Couldn’t they just play through the discomfort?

All of those thoughts focus on the bottom line. And they consequently ignore a key element: the human being who was actually hurt.

In complete fairness, though, that’s understandable. Professional athletes don’t always seem relatable; we view them from afar, and they’re more akin to real-life superheroes than our peers.

But series like Hard Knocks aim to make things a bit more relatable. And a clip of Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips tearing his Achilles will give everyone a bit more perspective into the realities of pro sports.

Jaelan Phillips, #15 of the Miami Dolphins, is carted off the field after being injured in a play against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Friday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. “Hard Knocks” captured the raw emotion at play.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

‘Hard Knocks’ Captured the Pain of a Torn Achilles

In many circumstances, on-field microphones can pick up fun moments, like one teammate showing another some love. During Hard Knocks, however, more painful situations do find their way into the spotlight.

One of those came during the Dolphins’ Black Friday game against the Jets. Toward the end of the contest, Phillips went down with a non-contact injury. The linebacker, however, immediately suspected what was wrong.

“I think my s— popped,” he was heard saying on a clip that reached social media. “My Achilles. I think my Achilles popped, bro.”

Other players came over in an attempt to console the defender, but their efforts were largely in vain. Expletives flowed and, at one point, Phillips simply began to cry.

He was eventually helped onto a cart and taken off the field. “Why, bro?” the microphones captured him saying. “Why?”

Another clip helped contextualize the linebacker’s anguish. Beyond the physical pain, Phillips (one interception, 6.5 sacks and 43 total tackles through eight games) was well aware of the opportunity that was passing him by.

“It was just disbelief, man,” he explained. “Like, I was feeling on top of the world. I was balling out. It’s crazy too cause [head coach] Mike [McDaniel] came up to me before the game and said something along the lines of like, ‘This is your opportunity to establish yourself as a star in this league. You know? Prime time, first Black Friday game and everyone in the world is watching.’ And, just in general, these last couple weeks I’ve been feeling like I’ve had the most confidence since I’ve been in the league. And I’ve been playing the best ball of my career.”

An untimely injury, however, brought all of that to a halt.

Phillips has since undergone surgery, and McDaniel indicated that it was a more conventional procedure than the one that Aaron Rodgers underwent. That would set the linebacker up for a longer road to recovery. At a minimum, the start of his 2024 is going to be a slog.

It’s also worth remembering that Phillips is in a much different situation than Rodgers. The linebacker is playing on his first NFL contract, which is worth a shade over $14 million; the Jets QB, by comparison, makes more than double that amount this year alone and has taken home upwards of $340 million during his time on the gridiron.

Beyond the money, which is a real factor even for a professional athlete, the Dolphin has significantly less clout than someone like Rodgers. A four-time MVP is always going to get another kick of the can, assuming he wants it. A third-year linebacker isn’t guaranteed the same luxury.

And ultimately, that’s where the pain arises. Beyond the physical anguish, a serious injury represents uncertainty. Beyond the fact that there’s a long road ahead, nothing is known. Phillips could struggle to recover. He could come back and lack the explosiveness that he previously had. In the most dramatic scenario, there’s no guarantee that Phillips will ever play again.

And as if seeing your life’s work (potentially) vanish in real time wasn’t painful enough, Phillips already had a tough road to the pros. During his time in college, he retired from football due to injuries. The linebacker later revived his career with the Miami Hurricanes and became a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Now, everything is placed on hold until next season, at minimum.

So, the next time an injury forces you to make a change to your fantasy football roster or learn the name of a backup player, take a moment before you complain. Think back to Phillips and his genuine distress, and use that as a touchstone to remember that even pro athletes are humans, too.