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Volume 90, Issue 63

Thursday, January 16, 1997



Column: Here comes the pain

With the refinement of superior athletes, modern sport has been unable to breed stronger frames that hold them together. As a result our sports heroes take a greater beating on the playing field than ever before.

Of course this has led to the creation of more durable and comfortable protection for the athletes, but in a sadistic catch-22 fashion, all this inevitably leads to is a feeling of invulnerability.

The words ‘torn ligaments' and ‘shattered bone' are about as common in sports jargon as the word ‘touchdown.' Only it seems that in modern sport we speak of the former far more often.

Nietzche once said that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, and many sports moguls have mistakenly translated this to the field. If this is the case, Brett Lindros should be topping NHL stats with his tenacity.

Our sports heroes have to come to the realization that they are paid to win for their team, but not at all costs. Sure, I want to see Toronto Maple Leaf Doug Gilmour working his ass off on the ice, but not if it means he watches all other games from his hospital room. His presence on the ice alone is a threat, despite what his contribution may be.

Rickey Watters got a lot of flak last year for not diving for a ball thrown to him in a regular season NFL game. He was in a position where to do so may have given the Philadelphia Eagles a first down, but at the same time, he might have sustained a severe injury.

The plethora of hate mail received as a result of this was disgusting and shameful – fans sent death threats. His tires were slashed wherever he went, his car was keyed twice and his family was deathly afraid for him. Chants of ‘coward' and ‘sellout' plagued him, contributed to even by his teammates who would not give him the ball and refused to speak to him.

For what? For realizing his contribution to his team was far more valuable than a first down could ever signify. For caring about what he means to his family, for the ability of carrying on playing the sport he loves for yet another day. And above all, for having the maturity to hold back on a play that sends most impetuous rookies to white rooms that smell medicinal.

True, there's little accomplishment without risk, but it's a matter of knowing what's worth it and what is not. A shot at the NHL may not always be worth the arduous journey – getting your face smacked into boards repeatedly, using your brittle body to shield slap shots and repeatedly getting slashed by guys named Ulf.

That says a lot for the men and women who face this adversity daily in professional leagues, but it also says a lot for the amateurs who participate for the sheer thrill of competition. We've come a long way from the barbaric days of gladiatorship, let's not make a return to brutality through other means.

Rookies and unestablished veterans have to realize they don't have to throw themselves in the thick of aggression in order to reach deserved recognition. Players don't have to prove anything to anyone except themselves – and that includes their teammates and their ignorant fans.

There's a fine line between sportsmanship and stupidity – the great ones just happen to know where it lies.

Playing with your heart shows your dedication to your sport and your team. Playing with your head shows your dedication to yourself. True athletes don't let the fate of a game determine the fate of their lives.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca