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Dwight Freeney and the Value of Toughness

Updated on March 29, 2010
Another victim.
Another victim.

Who is Dwight Freeney?

In professional football the most respected players are the ones that suit up week after week in spite of serious, painful injuries. Allen Iverson, of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76’ers has largely been given a pass for general self-centeredness on and off the court because we know he’s going to play through any injury that does not involve the loss of his actual head. Cal Ripken earned his nickname, the Ironman, by playing 2,632 consecutive games at shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles.

We go to work sick. We go to school sick. I’m sick right now. But here I am in the computer lab, waiting for my next class to start. Why don’t we take the time to heal?

Dwight Freeney is one half of the most dominant defensive end tandem in professional football. He plays for the Superbowl bound Indianapolis Colts. He also has a torn ligament in his right ankle. By most accounts, he will play in that biggest of big games, this upcoming Sunday.


Is He Sending the Wrong Message?

I’m not saying it’s wrong. I applaud toughness. I’ve played infinitely less important pick-up games while not fully intact. It feels good to perceive oneself as tough. There’s a certain intimidation factor that comes into play when your opponent sees your eyes staring into his very soul beneath a steady stream of dirt-tinted blood. The question I’m asking is, what value does this reflect? Is toughness itself a value, or is there some deeper, underlying, unstated motivation? I wonder, in essence, what are we trying to prove. And who are we trying to prove it to?

Often players state that they do not want to let their teammates down. This is both noble and selfish. On the one hand, they’re risking their own health for the benefit of their teammates’ success. On the other hand, they are playing the role of “hero,” and will gladly accept any praise associated with taking on such a role. And by playing hurt, one further reinforces the idea that, despite significant injury, team is more important than individual. He’s telling his teammates, and us, that he’ll play hurt, so we’d better quit our complaining when we’re not feeling up to par. We should get to work too. If Freeney plays on Sunday, he will reinforce this idea.

However, it’s hard to argue that Willis Reed was not a hero, when he stepped out on the court for game seven of the NBA Finals with a serious thigh injury in 1970. His presence propelled his team to a win, and an NBA championship. They were inspired. And so are we when see people do extraordinary things.

What chu talking about Willis?

"No cigar jokes please."
"No cigar jokes please."

Maybe it’s Freud

Maybe the underlying “value” I’m looking for is merely the human drive to compete. To push ourselves to the limit. To test ourselves over and over again. Maybe it’s what those pre-human hunters felt in the days before pre-packaged frozen hamburgers or “American Idol” sing-along video games. Maybe it’s our primal nature surfacing, our survival instinct telling us we will not be held down. We will not let circumstances hold us back. We will charge on. It is clear that none of us would be here if this drive had not existed in our ancestors.  Without this mentality, pre-humans would have been dominated and possibly annihilated by any number of other species. It is our own violent, competitive nature that has gotten us to where we are today.

And where are we today? Pretty damn close to a very exciting Superbowl. I can’t wait. Call it primal nature if you want, but I hope Dwight Freeney plays.

This movie taught me that human nature is evil.

He can't catch a break.

Who is more injured than a dead person? You don't see them complaining, though.


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