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Sims: To Play Or Not To Play? That Is The Question

Mark Teixeira (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Mark Teixeira (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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By Abby Sims
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Derek Jeter was a late scratch from Tuesday’s spring training lineup with what was referred to as a “cranky” ankle.

Evidently the degree of post-operative soreness (pain?) and stiffness he’d been experiencing was enough of a warning to warrant caution. This comes several weeks after Jeter admitted that he probably should not have played last season after sustaining an ankle contusion in mid-September. It was only one month after the initial insult to his ankle — in the first game of the American League Championship Series — that Jeter’s ankle fractured, requiring surgery.

Only a few days ago, Mark Teixeira noted that he would not return to the lineup until his wrist was 100 percent. He hedged his bets, saying that he may require surgery if his tendon sheath does not heal sufficiently to allow his extensor carpi ulnaris tendon (ECU) to remain stable (and therefore avoid wear and tear). The two weeks initially predicted for Teixeira’s return to the lineup was predictably amended almost immediately to eight to ten weeks. And now, well, who knows?

This more cautious attitude comes after Teixeira admitted that he also came back too fast after last season’s injury — a calf strain. Tex acknowledged that doing so exacerbated the injury and set back his recovery and return to effectiveness.

There are so many more examples. We could be talking about Amar’e Stoudemire’s knee, Dwight Howard’s shoulder and a myriad more. Is there any wonder why Carmelo Anthony is taking it slow?

What is interesting is that many fans, and even many in the media, still minimize the impact of injuries, especially those not requiring surgery. Is it the money that players make that pushes people to feel that athletes should just play through pain? The athletes often put enough pressure on themselves to do so.

However, there is generally a considerable cost,  whether it leads to a more dramatic or chronic injury. As in the cases of Jeter and Teixeira, it could affect performance, which might even impact the club more than sitting out. There is clearly not enough concern about long-term health and quality of life. Nothing points to this as an issue more than a window into the average lifespan of NFL players and the medical issues that they face as they age.

An obvious corollary to all of this is that the majority of pro athletes have youth on their side. The youngest of them will likely rebound from injury faster, however these recoveries are often the exceptions, not the rule. They should not set the standard for recovery — one that is unrealistic for the group as a whole, especially the elders amongst them (see the Yankees).

When an athlete has an injury — a known pathology such as Howard’s labral tear — he may alter his mechanics in order to play. He may avoid certain movements entirely, play fewer total minutes and continue to play with a degree of discomfort. Perhaps he is getting through the season with medication and ice or even injections. Only he and his medical team really know.

However, for members of the media to proclaim him healed and in good health because of his improved performance is ridiculous. Without surgery, a labral tear doesn’t heal. Without a comprehensive rehab program while avoiding activities that provoke the injury, those like Howard remain vulnerable, if not in pain. It wouldn’t be a shock if he has postseason surgery so that he really is healthy for next season. Media speculation as to what percentage Howard is functioning at presently is just hot air. It is meaningless conversation. Don’t pay it any mind unless you hear it from the man himself.

As for Anthony, his reputation as a me-first kind of guy may get in the way of fan expectations when he complains of injury — especially one that the Knicks seem not to pinpoint definitively. We tend not to spot any points to a player who makes headlines for the wrong reasons. However, do you really think that there are any athletes who want to be thought of as malingerers? How many really like to be vilified by the media, booed by the “fans” and put in a bind for future contracts?

What are your thoughts on this issue? Sound off with your comments below…