Yesterday friend of the blog and writer at Jets Nation, Travis Hrubeniuk, was watching his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs get curb stomped by the San Jose Sharks when Toronto winger James Van Riemsdyk got hit by Dion Phaneuf. After leaving the game, which was 5-1 at the tome, for 8 minutes and 30 seconds JVR returned. The time away indicates that there was enough time for him to have gone to the "quiet room" and had a concussion test at the time, but Travis was still upset that JVR was allowed to return. Why? Travis is a kinesiology student who studies concussions and in this situation he cannot win.
Why is this important? Because though JVR passed his quiet room test, the Leafs have an interesting way of talking about concussions. There is also the fact that concussion symptoms do not always manifest themselves immediately and there is cause for Travis' concern. But it begs the question, how concerned should we be when watching contact sports and as consumers do we bear any responsibility for athletes feeling obligated to return early or play with injury?
In short, no. But the answer is a lot more complicated than yes and no and ultimately comes down to the person who is cheering for the team.
Athletes are built up to be super humans. As I wrote yesterday, all athletes are insane and fans indulge them in their insanity. They make them heroes for wanting to play after suffering a cardiac incident. This type of thing is not heroic, it is dumb. It is as dumb as when Paul Kariya returned to the game after Scott Stevens knocked him out. That clip is still played and Kariya is still celebrated for his reckless return.
It is okay if you celebrate an athlete for playing hurt, but you should hesitate celebrating playing injured. Year ago I was taught the difference: an injury is something that normally requires you to miss time or change your training habits/workload. Though playing injured is possible, it takes extra work and the player may not be as effective as when they were not injured (duh). Playing hurt is when you are sore, you have a knot in a muscle, you are not 100%. There is no way that you will miss the game because it is something so minor that missing practice is unlikely. If a hurt is not taken care of, it may turn into an injury that can have long-term implications on an athletes career (the difference between being hurt and injured was explained to me by a former coach who is also a physiotherapist).
So what is the responsibility of fans when it comes to athletes competing hurt? Not much, for their in the moment decisions to try to play hurt, but the praise that is heaped on any player when they play hurt is enormous. When are we going to realize that it is not heroic to play with a broken body? When are we going to realize that it is dangerous to play collapsed lung among other ailments? When are we going to wake up and realize that it is not tough to play through so many injuries, but dangerous? Soon? How hard can it be to realize?
Everyone wants to be a hero. By building up athletes playing through mind boggling injuries are we doing them any favours or are we contributing to the long term damage that their health by hailing them as heroes for playing injured? Would it not be better if we quietly accepted that even the most physically gifted human beings are better off worrying about their long term health and not about insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) wins? Probably. But that is not how athletes are programmed. We can change the we talk about players. We can talk less about the injuries that they play through and more about the goals they score when they are "healthy". Athletes will always be athletes and will always want to play, but if we the fans start to create sports heroes out of the results produced on the ice instead of the pain that is played through to gain those results, maybe the legend will change, maybe the culture will shift. Maybe, just maybe an athlete will suffer a potentially fatal incident on the field of play and instead of asking if they can return, they will ask for their family and go to the hospital without thought of the game for a long time. But I doubt we will ever get that far.