SPORTS: Unstoppable Forces of Nature

By Joel Ebert

Here in the United States, many of us idolize the unstoppable athlete. We love our most valuable players, Olympic Gold Medal winners, and first place finishers. But if there is something we love more it is the injured or flawed athlete succeeding while fighting an internal or near impossible battle.

Example 1: Paul Pierce injured his knee (some say it was sprained) in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals, only to come back less than 2 minutes later and rain on the Lakers parade. Pierce got into the locker room with trainer Brian McKeon and after they discovered he could put wait on both legs, they sent him back out on the court. Pierce later said "I had to get back out there to help my ballclub, That was all that was going through my mind, just being a part of it. I just wanted to get back out there."

Example 2: Tiger Woods won this year’s U.S. Open after playing with a torn ligament in his left knee for nearly 10 months and suffering a “double stress fracture” in the same leg two weeks before the tournament. Woods won the tournament in a playoff with Rocco Mediate only to turn around that same week and announce that he needed surgery to repair his knee that would prevent him from playing for the rest of the current season.

Example 3: In Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling pitched 7 effective innings and gave up only one run on four hits. Controversy swarmed around Schilling because of what was known as the bloody sock. Throughout the game Schilling’s right sock was focused on, revealing that there was blood on his ankle, where Schilling had sutures.

Now some people believe these athletes were exaggerating or faking their injuries.

Laker fans complained that Pierce was faking it, citing his instant turnaround by simply going to the locker room. L.A. coach Phil Jackson even said "Paul got carried off and was back on his feet in a minute. I don't know if the angels visited him in that time-out period or what, but he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor.”

Fellow golfer Retief Goosen said that he believed Woods was exaggerating his injury as well. Goosen went as far as to say “It just seemed that when he hit a bad shot his knee was in pain and on his good shots he wasn’t in pain. You see when he made the putts and he went down on his knees and was shouting, ‘Yeah’, his knee wasn’t sore.”

And since 2004, when Schilling had two bloody sock games (the aforementioned one, and once during the World Series) there have been a host of critics calling the bloody sock a public relations move. Broadcaster Gary Thorne said that he believed the sock was painted, citing a conversation that never seemed to have taken place with Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli, who later denied Thorne’s claim.

I am not going to weigh in on those arguments, however. What I am going to weigh in on is the fact that these American athletes and a host of others (Michael Jordan and the famous Flu Game, Eight Belles, the horse that broke it’s legs at the Kentucky Derby, etc) feel the need to play when they are not 100% healthy.

It seems to me that the reason behind them doing this is because they feel the need to either a) prove that they are capable of doing miraculous things despite an injury b) they love the game/sport so much that nothing can stop them from playing or c) their team desperately needs them for support.

Once the task is completed, we (the audience) glorify these people. Maybe this is because we see ourselves in these athletes, at least in small doses. There are numerous occasions when we don’t feel like going to work or school but must tough it out because we don’t have a sick day left or our job is too important to miss.

I am worried that this idolization of the imperfect, yet unstoppable athlete may be part of a bigger problem within our society. What that problem may be I have not yet solved.

Maybe this is reflective in the rampant use of steroids in professional sports today. I am not suggesting that professionals such as Paul Pierce, Curt Schilling, or Tiger Woods are using steroids. But perhaps the fact steroids usage is so prevalent in American sports today is because American athletes want to be that big, bad, unstoppable force of nature (ie the aforementioned athletes) that we all idolize. I get the sense that this is a growing epidemic in American sports - do you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree that the "imperfect yet unstoppable" athlete is part of a greater societal problem in this country.

I'm surprised you didn't cite money as one of your reasons. It's worth noting that many of these players are paid into the millions, and along with the glory of a championship or tournament win, comes even more cash through bonuses and endorsements.