Anybody who spends time around sports has heard the tough talk.
“Rub some dirt on it,” “Walk it off,” “Never show weakness.”
From an early age, athletes are engrained with the mentality that you don’t let anybody know you’re hurt. You tough it out and go about your business.
It only gets more glaring when athletes become professionals. Instead of their little-league coach or parents imploring them to give it a go even if they’re gimpy, hundreds of thousands of fans are there asking you to put your body on the line.
When athletes do it, we revere them. Everybody remembers Michael Jordan’s “Flu game,” or Tiger Woods winning the US Open with a torn ACL. Hockey is full of guys playing with broken bones, stitches and missing teeth.
We love it. We glorify it. And lately, we chastise people who don’t.
I’m as guilty as anybody. Last year, there were countless times when I thought Kawhi Leonard should have returned to the court. I read the Spurs doctors cleared him for action and thought he should tough it out and play.
He knew his body better than I did and decided to sit out. The different opinions – the Spurs thinking he could play, Kawhi knowing he couldn’t – caused his exit from San Antonio. He’s now one win away from a ring and what will likely be his second Finals MVP.
Monday night on the other bench, Kevin Durant decided to give it a go after missing a month with a right calf injury. Many questioned why it took Durant so long to come back, with whispers that he couldn’t possibly be that hurt.
Even Jeremy Roenick, fabled NHL tough guy and NBC broadcaster, lobbed a grenade at the NBA last week. When Bruins defender Zdeno Chara decided to play with a broken jaw, Roenick tweeted “Chara is playing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with a broken jaw… NBA players, take note.”
Durant played 12 minutes before rupturing his right Achilles. He probably won't play basketball for another year and his team’s odds of pulling a miraculous finals comeback took a big hit.
Maybe there was nothing that could’ve been done to prevent Durant’s injury. He had the best doctors looking over him, the best personnel surrounding him and looking out for his best interest. He’s a great basketball player and you become that by playing basketball, not watching.
At some point though, we have to stop creating folk lore about these guys playing through intense injuries. It’s only going to create more pain.