COLUMN: Media overplays injuries to athletes, gives wrong image
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:10
You see it every year. Someone somewhere is playing though an injury and ESPN is singing his or her praises. It is admirable. They go out there and perform at less than 100 percent to try and give their team a better chance to win.
They wince and moan all the way while cameras are shoved in their faces. It’s an impressive thing, it’s something mass media has romanticized and it’s a bad image for young athletes.
Growing up, I had images of Byron Leftwich being carried to the line of scrimmage by his lineman between plays because of a broken leg to lead Marshall back for a win, Tiger Woods limping on a torn ACL to win the U.S. open, Michael Jordan ready to collapse from the flu or food poisoning to win game five of the NBA Finals.
So when it was my turn to get injured in sports, I thought it was all-important to keep playing. In Little League I found it more important to play through my shoulder coming out of its socket repeatedly than to sit a few games out. I ended up having surgery, something that stayed with me for years.
I wasn’t the only person in my high school to be affected so deeply by the heroics of professional injuries. Someone on my football team cheated on a concussion test to get to play again and promptly got an extremely severe concussion. He may possibly never gain back his former brain capabilities.
Another player on our soccer team tore his ACL and was going to take a penalty kick weeks later, which would have severely damaged his knee, before the trainer dragged him off the field. Another teammate of mine decided he could play on a broken foot in a practice, breaking it further and missing months because of it.
So what is it? What draws on young athletes’ pride so hard to make them want to play through injuries? Could it be images of Kobe Bryant taking his free throws on one leg after he tore his ACL, or maybe the bloody sock of Curt Schilling as he pitched through a torn tendon in his ankle?
Players are not just praised for their triumphs over injuries, but their work ethic and competitive nature are publicly questioned when they sit out from injuries. Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose were insulted repeatedly last year on major networks for protecting their bodies, for taking the time they thought their bodies needed.
Robert Griffin III fought during the offseason to prove to networks, fans and adoring youth athletes that he would play through pain, assuring everybody the only reason he was not playing was because of the coaches so that he was saved from people questioning his competitiveness.
Kids see these things and don’t want to be the ones who can’t handle the pain, the kids who are seen as wimpy.
To be clear, I am not admonishing the athletes for playing through these injuries, they are adults; they know the implications of doing so. I’m saying it needs to be less-encouraged.
Young athletes get the idea that they should be playing through pain; they see sportscasters singing the praises of athletes who are wincing and moaning and winning and think they should do the same. I think Little League and high school coaches do a good job for the most part by not forcing young athletes into playing through injuries, but these kids take it upon themselves to hide injuries from coaches and parents because they think it’s a part of sports.
I’ve seen it, I’ve done it. You hear about it all the time. Last year a high school football player in Texas pushed his limits so far during a practice that he died from a brain injury. This is an extreme case, but it’s a reality. Players are being taught from a young age that playing through an injury is a noble thing to do.
The solution isn’t clear either. Players like Ray Lewis are still going to play through a torn bicep, and Allen Craig is still going to hobble out for the World Series on an injured foot and major networks are still going to report it.
The only real solution is to change how it is reported on. Instead of singing the praises of the players who do it, simply report the facts. An injury existed and the player still competed and succeeded.
Instead media goes on for days, showing highlights and talking about how amazing these players are, because it’s not so amazing when a kid can’t remember where he is after suffering his third undetected concussion because he thinks it is the heroic thing to do.
— Jeffrey Dahdah is a sophomore studying Statistics and Journalism. He is a die-hard Cardinals, Rams, Jazz and Aggies fan. He loves sports statistics and loves using them to analyze a sports and prove his points. If you have something to say to him, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at him @dahdahUSU.