Some of the most iconic sports moments in history occurred when an athlete battled through some sort of injury or illness. Plenty of examples come to mind right away, but what about today’s athletes? Are they continuing to battle through injuries like the sports stars of our youth, or have they gone softer in the modern day?
Anybody who has ever competed in athletics has likely suffered through an injury or two. This can be a frustrating time for an athlete at any level, as some injuries force you to the sidelines immediately, but others leave athletes uncertain as to whether they should fight through the pain to keep going given they also potentially risk further injury in doing so.
As we’ve seen in the past, playing through pain is glorified with athletes competing at the highest level. Examples are endless, but they include what had previously been called the Michael Jordan flu game where he scored 38 points to lead the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. Another is former Los Angeles Dodger Kirk Gibson, who pinch hit in the ninth inning and crushed a walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series despite injuries to both legs. It would ultimately be his lone plate appearance of the entire series.
These types of stories from long ago can go on forever, and the injuries seem to be more devastating every time they’re told.
We still have stories like this happening to this day, including former NFL quarterback Alex Smith, who suffered a compound fracture to his leg and yet returned to start a professional football game two years and 17 surgeries later. The rehabilitation process had gone wrong due to an infection where amputation of the leg, and even death, were possible.
Returning from that is an incredible achievement, but where criticism of modern athletes might come in is for much less extreme examples than that. Recently, LeBron James returned from a 20-game absence due to a high ankle sprain and told reporters, “I don’t think I’ll ever get back to 100 percent in my career.”
That might be a little dramatic as plenty of professional athletes have battled through a high ankle sprain, but it’s tough to ever be 100 percent healthy during the grind of an NBA season especially at his age.
As sports fans, we may be more cynical now than we had been in the Jordan era likely due to the prevalence of social media, but players are still battling through injuries likely in part because that’s what their childhood heroes did.
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