Good Idea, Bad Idea: Playing Injured

Over the past 2 years injuries have been a hot button issue in the Boston sports market.  Boston superstars have missed significant playing time, tried to come back to soon, and then ended up missing more time.  Boston’s fans are brutal and are willing to criticize anyone at any given time.  Is there ever an appropriate time, as a fan, to look toward the future rather than the present?  Here in Boston, if you are out for over a month, fans question your manhood, call you a wimp and call you a slang term for the female anatomy.

Now I will digress and say that there is a huge difference between playing hurt and playing injured.  I highly doubt that by the time mid season of any sport comes around, there is any player that is 100% healthy.  A season is taxing and if you don’t have aches, pains, and general soreness then you must question if you have been giving any effort to this point in the season.  However, these aches and pains are not injuries. JD Drew doesn’t play when he is hurt and he sure is hell isn’t going to play when he is injured.

As a fan, when is it fair to criticize our athletes? In 2009 Kevin Garnett went down against the Utah Jazz with what seemed at the time like a mild knee injury.  It turned out to be a lot more serious.  Garnett rushed his return, sitting out only 10 games, coming back and playing in 2 games before ending his season.  What we didn’t know at the time was rushing back from the injury would cost the Celtics their NBA Finals ticket for the second year in a row.  The Celtics pushed the Magic to seven games that year but were simply a KG away from meeting with the Lakers for the second straight year.

This year the Red Sox were plagued with injuries like no team in recent memory.  They lost Jacoby Ellsbury 8 games into the season after he collided with Adrian Beltre, fracturing his ribs.  The front office of the Sox questioned the severity of his injury and rushed Ellsbury back.  After playing in just two games Ellsbury went back on the disabled list and was out for the majority of the season.  Just last week, Ellsbury came back to play and was promptly sent back to the DL with yet another rib injury.  All season his toughness has been questioned.  This is the same guy who had been crashing into the outfield walls making catch after catch having no regard for his body the previous two years.  The fact of the matter is, when it comes to Ellsbury, Sox fans expect more from him because he has been viewed as a franchise player.  He was the heir apparent to then fan favorite Johnny Damon.  The same Johnny Damon who famously answered a reporter who asked him why he was playing when he could barely walk in the clubhouse said "we are in a pennant race."  Damon was tough as nails and we loved him for it.

Ellsbury tried taking time off and recover from his injury.  The same wasn’t true for Dustin Pedroia.  Pedroia broke his foot on June 25.  On June 27, Pedroia was back on the field taking ground balls at second base on his knees.  It has been well documented that he tried getting back on the field as fast as he could.  Pedroia came back for 2 games and then felt soreness in the spot where he broke his foot, landing him back on the DL.  Fans loved that he was back on the field.  He was the consummate dirtdog that Boston fans embraced.  But that very mentality landed him back on the DL and potentially out for the season. 

These events have generated the question, "is it better to play injured or to wait for the injury to fully heal?"  Who knows what the lasting impact of the Ellsbury and Pedroia injuries will be? Celtics fans have seen that Kevin Garnett has obviously slowed since his rushed attempt at getting back on the court.  Will Ellsbury and Pedroia suffer the same fate? 

And now all this brings me to hometown hero Wes Welker.  Just 7 and a half months after tearing his knee apart on the turf at Reliant Stadium against the Texans, he is back on the field playing in games!  Sure, all the Patriot fans are loving that Welker is back so quickly.  This injury usually takes a year to recover and then another year to get back to any semblance of what that athlete once was.  Is it smart for Welker to hurry his return?  Prior to the Garnett, Pedroia, and Ellsbury incidents I would have loved to see Welker back out on the field.  Now I am less optimistic.  Personally I would rather have Welker for the last games of the regular season and playoffs at full health then have him for the first few games of the season.

Once upon a time I was all for athletes trying for their "Willis Reed" moment.  What people don’t realize is that Willis Reed had a less than mediocre game in that Game 7.  After seeing a laundry list of my favorite players go down, I am leaning toward supporting athletes decisions to fully recover.  I hope nothing comes of Welker’s rushed comeback attempt.  But if he gets reinjured, remember reading this post.  Remember that I was not in favor of a rushed return. Remember that I wanted Welker for the games that matter in January and not in August and September.

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2 Responses

  1. I have to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing Welker miss the 1st 6 weeks so he could get to 100 percent and Edelman and Tate could develop a little more, even if that meant a couple extra losses.

    Good to see you posting again Scotty… and kudos for the Animaniacs picture u used for the title.

  2. Poon,

    You are spot on. I actually wanted to make that point and somehow forgot. When someone goes down it gives someone else a chance to step up, and it also reaps long term benefits, such as adding roster depth.

    When KG went down, Big Baby stepped up and played out of his mind. This gave him confidence and one can ask that if Garnett didn’t go down would Glen Davis be the player he is today?

    When Ellsbury, Cameron, and Pedroia went down it allowed for guys like Bill Hall, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, and Daniel Nava to step up. Come October, if the Sox are still alive, I will have much more confidence in those 4 guys because I have seen that they can contribute because they have had the chances too.

    With Welker playing, the Patriots aren’t able to explore their other options in case he or (god for bid) Randy Moss goes down. Last year Edelman stepped up the best he could. But I would like to see Tate and Edelman get more of a chance as Welker rehabs.

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