Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No Pain, No Gain: The Myths of Fandom

Clint Malarchuk after having his throat sliced on ice.

On the heels of Brazilian Superstar Neymar's devastating back injury, I'd like us to take a look that the philosophy behind the idea that his absence from the world cup is more important than healing from a broken vertebrae.

Recently, there have been extreme efforts to improve the protection of professional sports players across the world. In football, we see more players than ever wearing preventative knee braces, as well as the league's strict enforcement of helmet to helmet contact rules. In baseball, there is cracking down on steroid abuse and a push to stop the use of chewing tobacco during games. In basketball, more flagrant fouls than ever are being awarded because of the new 'Flagrant 1' and 'Flagrant 2' rules.

Many Americans have sought to complain about the new ideologies taking over the sports world, citing the common notion that 'back in the day' was much better than the current day, because players today are not as physical as they were in previous decades. However, in order to do this, we must dissect the problem with the culture surrounding this idea: Players must put their bodies on the line for the sport they play, anything less is unacceptable, and grounds for replacement.

Myth #1: We are loyal to our players.


New Orleans Saints' fans wearing bags over their faces.

In large part, we treat our athletes as cogs in a system that must be immediately replaced when functionality decreases. Just as soon as there is a slight drop off in a player, we are willing to get rid of them, and yet, we expect them to be unequivocally loyal to our team. Exhibit A: Peyton Manning. From 1998-2010, Peyton Manning did not miss a game for the Indianapolis Colts. He started every game and built a reputation as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.

A series of neck surgeries during the summer of 2011 derailed his chances of playing a 14th season with the Colts, the Colts had a horrible season, and proceeded to draft Manning's replacement in the NFL Draft following the season. The Colts released Manning, even though he led them to 7 consecutive 12 win seasons, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and a number of other great memories, including his unmatched ability to audible. Without any definite proof, the front office began to question his ability to recover and decided to move in a different direction, releasing the player that their dynasty was built around. How can we expect players to be loyal to our teams when our teams are not loyal to our players?

Myth #2: We want to protect our players from serious injury.


Jordan being held up by Scottie Pippen while sick during the NBA Finals.

For every great player in this day and age that sits out games because of injury, there is a player from 20-30 years ago that is cited for his toughness, and the fact that he or she played through serious injury. LeBron James has somewhat infamously experienced leg cramps during the NBA Finals on two separate occasions. The first worked out in his favor, as he returned to the game and helped engineer a victory. This year, however, he missed 7 of the last 8 minutes of a finals game that saw a 6 point lead turn into a 15 point deficit in the final quarter.

Overly critical fans compared it to Michael Jordan's "Flu Game", where Jordan scored 38 points despite suffering from an apparent stomach virus in the day leading up to Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. To expect someone with an identifiable physical ailment to prolong pain and risk further injury is absurd.

Myth #3: We care about the livelihoods of our Sports Heroes


Neymar after being injured this past weekend.

Neymar da Silva Santos JĂșnior, going simply by Neymar Jr,  is currently the most famous athlete in Brazil. On Saturday, he broke his lumbar vertebrae in a World Cup Quarterfinal match. The immediate reaction to his injury was appalling to say the least. Fans of other teams immediately disrespected the injury as a flop, and he was later ridiculed by rival fans taking the injury as a laughing matter.

Even many so called fans of the team worried more for Brazil's semifinal game than the health of the number one athlete in their country. Generally speaking, any back injury is a serious injury, and a broken vertebrae in extreme cases can cause paralysis. What is a soccer match to a country that wins cups on a regular basis if a 22 year old athlete must break his vertebrae in the process?

I challenge human philosophy to question what the sports pundits and former athletes tell you. Just because Bo Jackson 'popped his own hip into place' and Willis Reed played with a torn thigh muscle does not mean that players in this day and age should be criticized for exercising with caution, does not mean that we should exploit the hearts and minds of dedicated athletes, and does not give us the right to take advantage of their loyalty to their teams.