“If the condition of the nerves and the blood vessels are fine, he’ll do well,” Bennett said. He predicted that within 18 months, Ware could be playing as well as he had before the injury.
Craig Roberts, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Louisville’s medical school, said in a written statement that Ware could be back by the end of next season. “The outcome of compound fractures . . . of the tibia have come a long way from the days when they were universally fatal from bleeding or gangrene, or meant an immediate loss of limb,” he said.
Former Louisville running back Michael Bush sustained a similar lower-leg injury in 2006 during his senior year and has had a productive professional career since; Maryland defensive back Nolan Carroll went down with a non-contact bone break in 2009 before playing for the Miami Dolphins.
“We fixed him that night, and he played” for the Dolphins the following year, Bennett said.
In a teleconference Monday, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who had wiped away tears as medical personnel tended to Ware on the court, said his player was “in great spirits” after surgery.
“I know right before the surgery he was able to watch the players at the press conference, and the nurses and the doctors told me that was the first time he just broke down and cried, when the players were talking about him,” Pitino said.
Ware’s mother, Lisa, flew in from Georgia, where she had watched her son’s game and his injury Sunday. “She’d been crying all night,” Pitino said. “Once she gave him a hug this morning, everything was fine.”
If all goes well, Ware could return to Louisville on Tuesday.
Theismann and Bush tweeted their sympathies, and Bush spoke by phone with Ware before acknowledging publicly that he wept at the sight of Ware crumpling.
“Sometimes, you have an event that makes people realize that there’s something more important than the tribe, than the colors we wear,” said Eric Simons, author of the book “The Secret Lives of Sports Fans,” out Thursday. “The story of sports fans that is really underappreciated is that we do shut off our red colors and our blue colors” and empathize as human beings.
Adding to the shock was the scene of the injury — a basketball court rather than a football field or a boxing ring, Simons said. Reactions to events in sports are very “context-dependent,” he said, something that helps explain why violence among fans is more common at soccer matches, where some almost expect it, than at baseball games.
“I don’t think you need much of a psychological explanation” for the reaction to Ware’s injury, Simons said. But “any time you’re not primed for it, if you’re not expecting this from the context of the event, it does come as a shock to your brain, at a very deep level.”
Joel Achenbach and Cindy Boren contributed to this report.