The idea of being tough is very ingrained in young men.
It starts in childhood, gets blown out of proportion during puberty and gets treated with a fond nostalgia in old age.
Sure, some of it feels necessary. What grown man hasn’t rolled his eyes when a little kid gets a boo-boo and goes crying to his mom?
The kid goes to his mom because he knows his father will say something like, “Rub some dirt on it. You’ll be fine.”
Which is actually bad advice because staph bacteria is naturally found in dirt and can enter the body through cuts and scrapes.
Still, the idea we try to get across to our kids is that little aches and pains have to be endured. And there is a lot of truth to that.
Before my third back surgery in 2005, I remember talking to a colleague who was battling a bad knee that needed full replacement. I said to Susan, “You know, the way I feel on the average day would have had me calling in sick 10 years ago. ‘Work? I can’t even get out of bed.’”
We learn that there are tasks that must be completed whether we feel like it or not.
Unfortunately, we tend to go overboard.
We praise people for returning from injuries sooner than expected, especially if it’s for our favorite sports team. We cheer the player who puts his body at jeopardy just to pick up a first down or block home plate or take a charge.
That toughness ideal gets into the heads of those who are injured, and they try to return to duty before the body is ready.
When I went into the Army at 17, I was skinny, but in pretty good shape. Wearing a heavy pack and walking long distances, though, sprained the arch of my left foot. Wanting to be tough, especially in that testosterone-heavy place, I kept going day after day until all the limping on one leg caused the arch in my other foot to be sprained.
Of course we all know there are all the football players who suffered a concussion, then came back only to suffer another one. Retired players used to sit around laughing about the times they were knocked unconscious. Now we understand just how dangerous multiple concussions can be. LT Michael Oher still hasn’t been cleared from the “concussion protocol” from a September injury.
Before he ever made a roster in the NFL, QB Kurt Warner hurt his thumb in an Arena League game. That thumb was reinjured a few times over the years, including one season in New York with the Giants. Warner couldn’t get a good grip on the ball, especially when defenders were swiping at his arm in the pocket.
Warner said he tried a glove to see if he could grip better, but he couldn’t throw accurately with one, so he ditched the glove.
He started only nine games, but had 12 fumbles and four interceptions. The Giants let him go.
His first year in Arizona, Warner was still having issues gripping the ball. He played in 10 games, and the team went 2-8 with Warner throwing nine INTs and having nine more fumbles. Things were even worse the second year in Arizona as he fumbled 10 times in five starts.
Warner got a little healthier, then eventually learned to throw while wearing a glove. His grip improved, and his finished his career with three straight strong seasons, including a Pro Bowl and very nearly a Super Bowl win over the Steelers.
Cam Newton finished out the 2016 season with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He wanted to play, but considering that the team wasn’t going to make the playoffs, maybe the team should have rested him.
It’s not just regular injuries that have to be taken into consideration; there is also day-to-day strain. I remember reading an article years ago about how many running backs suffer major injuries and miss at least half a season the year after they lead the league in rushing attempts. These included Terrell Davis, AFC, and Jamal Anderson, NFC, in the same year (1999), Earl Campbell (1982), Barry Foster (1993), Shaun Alexander (2006), Larry Johnson (2007) and Arian Foster (2013).
An article posted on ESPN Tuesday discusses the effect of fatigue on NBA players, especially by the time the playoffs arrive.
Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic is quoted in the article as saying that the five factors for fatigue are: 1. travel/sleep/recovery; 2. minor injuries; 3. season duration; 4. number of hard efforts (games) in a two-week window; 5. mental grind.
ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh noted that by the time the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas turned 31, the point guard had performed in more games (regular season and playoffs together) than any other player in league history for his age. Then at 32 his career was over when his Achilles ruptured.
There have been a lot of public complaints from fans and even reporters about NBA players sitting out a game to rest.
Consider this: LeBron James is 32 years old and already has played in 1,263 games. That already is more games than Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and many other NBA greats ever played in their entire careers.
Despite his wear and tear, LeBron led the league this season in minutes played per game (37.8). How much is this heavy nightly burden wearing down King James? How much will this shorten his career?
Do we want to see a tough guy playing to exhaustion and retiring early, or do we as fans want to see someone like Tim Duncan give fewer minutes a night, but play until he is pushing 40?
We might need to rethink that tough guy approach.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.