Sam Darnold’s spleen is the most talked-about sports organ of the fall, and for good reason. The New York Jets quarterback is ill with mononucleosis (the kissing disease, or the “I Shared A Cup With My Friend” disease if you’re a teen talking to a parent) and his spleen is enlarged. It’s super dangerous to play any sport with mono, so you can only imagine the caution he’s taking returning to play pro football.
Nobody summed up the situation better than Darnold himself when asked about his health status heading into Week 5 of the NFL season. “It’s a tough thing because you want to stay safe,” the QB who’s missed all but the first game of the season said. “I want to make sure that I’m safe out there and I’m not going to die.”
"I wanna make sure that I'm safe out there, and that I'm not gonna die" – Sam Darnold pic.twitter.com/w0J1MiZ2TL— Jets Videos (@snyjets) October 3, 2019
In case you missed it in the previous sentence, here it is again: “I want to make sure that ... I’m not going to die.”
Somehow, the winless and generally hopeless Jets used Darnold in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and were trying to get him to play against the Eagles on Sunday. They even made him special custom padding to guard his big ol’ spleen. But ultimately, he was declared out on Friday morning after tests revealed that his spleen is still larger than it should be.
Now he’s finally cleared for contact and making his return to the field in Week 6. Darnold will, however, be wearing the football equivalent of a suit of armor.
Sam Darnold from the Jets will be wearing these protective shoulder pads pic.twitter.com/v1YCWujUhW— ENRIQUE CABEZUELA (@Enrique66573043) October 13, 2019
That (hopefully) puts an end to Darnold’s early season health concerns.
An enlarged spleen is no joke!
An enlarged spleen can rupture upon impact, and that can be extremely painful and life-threatening. Per Sports Health’s study, peak spleen size occurs in the first two weeks, but can last as long as three-and-a-half. Darnold’s felt symptoms since his start in Week 1 on Sept. 8.
The same study reveals that splenic injuries are unlikely to the general population, with just .5 percent of patients with mono experiencing such an event. But Darnold isn’t a regular person. He’s playing in one of the most dangerous contact sports there is.
And remember, he is trying to not die.
Wow, that sounds bad. But what the heck is a spleen anyway?
Good question! Before Darnold (probably) kissed his way out of three weeks of football, I had no clue.
The short answer: The spleen filters blood, recycles red blood cells. stores white blood cells and fights bad bacteria. It’s protected by the rib cage. You can live without a spleen, but you’d become more prone to infection. In fact, in 2006, Tampa Bay Bucs QB Chris Simms had his removed after taking hits during a game.
Darnold’s mono contributed to an all-time NFL meme
The good news is that the 22-year-old QB is going to be OK. The virus that causes mono is so common that 85-to-90 percent of adults have it by age 40. With the proper rest, he’ll be good to throw footballs again soon.
But there’s a mono meme that will persist for years and years and years that he’ll never be able to live it down. Through the ups and downs of his career, this is here to stay.
I present to you: The ESPN Darnold meme:
It's just so incredibly rude pic.twitter.com/aydEeBt7jk— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 17, 2019
Didn't get to watch last night's game so just now seeing how hilarious this graphic was pic.twitter.com/bIx3VsifbU— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 17, 2019
And produced the following:
We’ve also been privileged to get daily Darnold spleen updates
It’s spleen season for NFL media.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen very productive updates such as the following:
Darnold: "My spleen is going to do what it’s going to do.” #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) September 30, 2019
Sam Darnold will practice fully today for #Jets. Players just can’t touch him.— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) October 2, 2019
Asked Gase how he prevents a player slipping & making contact with Darnold’s spleen
"It's close, but it's not where it needs to be" – Adam Gase on Sam Darnold's spleen pic.twitter.com/xqcEqR1q8l— Jets Videos (@snyjets) October 4, 2019
And of course the aforementioned instant classic:
This is the hard-hitting journalism sports media needs. And we decided to take it a bit further.
We made some Sam Darnold spleen poems for you
Roses are red,
Their leaves are green,
Protect Sam Darnold,
And his weird enlarged spleen
- James Dator
Roses are red,
The Jets make me hurl,
Sam Darnold might die,
From kissing a girl
- Kim McCauley
Roses are red,
Functional spleens are great,
Unlike Notre Dame,
Who once went 4-8
- Matt Brown
I’m allergic to roses,
Pollen makes me cry,
Please protect my spleen,
I don’t want to die
- Matt Ellentuck
And there you have it. There’s everything you need to know about October’s most mainstream athlete organ.