Has our concept of “toughness” become detrimental to team sports?

The thought that men are supposed to be tough is an ideal that goes back through the annals of history, and it’s an idea that is amplified by an innumerable amount in the world of sports. If you’re hurt, play through it. That’s the “tough” thing to do.

The general consensus is that pain is temporary; therefore, it’s in the best interest of the team for a player to put their head down and play with no regard for their body whatsoever, but maybe it’s time to re-examine that philosophy.

The idea is something that nearly every athlete has had instilled in them by the simple predispositions of previous generations. In my not-so-illustrious days as a prep athlete, I played through injury because that was the tough thing to do, but I’m not so sure that it was the best thing to do. Looking back on it, I am not concerned with the fact that I could have seriously injured myself. I’m concerned with the idea that I potentially hurt my team by playing when I shouldn’t have.

Today, Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox got roughed up in an outing against the Minnesota Twins and in the post-game interview he played off his struggles as caused by one of his many injury problems. He’s a “warrior” and a “competitor,” so in his mind, it is in the best interest of his team to continue on. But is it really?

In team sports, especially at their highest levels, the concept of being a team player means that you have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the team. This preconceived notion that playing through an injury is the courageous thing to do is a direct contradiction to the actual concept of playing for the team.

The truly courageous thing to do would be to gracefully concede the fact that their simply might be better options than one’s self.

The problem is that we’ve seen certain instances where legendary performances have taken place when an athlete has miraculously overcome an injury to play at an unusually high level. That glorious gladiator mentality is so ingratiated in our brain that it makes it that much more difficult for us to truly gauge when an athlete should and shouldn’t push the envelope.

Don’t get me wrong, there are instances when an elite athlete at 75% is a better option than his potential replacement, but more often than not, that’s simply not the case. That’s why it’s time for us to re-evaluate our stance on the issue of true “toughness.”

Unfortunately, the difficulty lies in the fact that it’s so difficult to tangibly measure “hurt.” How hurt is too hurt?

I’m not advocating the sissification of society. The idea is related to the seriousness of the injury. I’m not asking for people to sit out of the big game because they have a paper cut, but I am asking that we take a step back and truly reconsider the mentality we’ve accepted as a society.

It’s not feasible to pretend like it’s as simple as flipping a switch, especially when you consider that our current ideology on toughness is practically tattooed on the face of our society. However, we CAN start the process of changing our collective thought process.

It might be in the best interest of the team.


About Ryan Wooden

Told people I was a sportswriter enough times for it to become true. Contributor at ChicagoSideSports.com, correspondent for the Morris Daily Herald, general freelancer and all-around idiot.
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