So, Matt Harvey's having a bit of a year. From Joe Posnanski on NBC Sports.
We ask pro athletes to play through extreme pain and we are not especially open to their complaints. We get angry at them when they ask for more money. We get REALLY angry at them if they unionize to get a larger sum of the pie. We feel no sympathy for them whatsoever when they get so much less than they are worth on the open market. ...
Matt Harvey might have been destined to have this injury. But a year ago he was told by a doctor — a doctor who knows his business pretty well — to pitch no more than 180 innings. He pitched on for the team, for the fans, for his own pride. It was noble, at least by sports standards. Many people cheered him. The cheering stopped pretty quickly, though, when he started pitching lousy this year.
This is straight out of our old pal The Sport Ethic. One of the key tenents of this is that players are willing to risk their physical health for a chance at athletic glory. You play hurt if it means you have a chance to win big.
What's intersting is that most of the research into The Sport Ethic has been done at the athlete level. These are attributes and attitudes that elite athletes themselves have. But Posnanski's framing of this is intersting, because it places it at the level of the fan. It's what we demand of Harvey, rather than what Harvey and his teammates demanded of himself.
It's intersting to consider sports journalism's role in this. Because as a norm, we lionize athletes who risk their own personal health for the sake of the team, or the sake of the championship. Any player who gets hurt is a liability, and it's seen as a personal failing of the athlete. They can't stay on the field, they can't be healthy, they are (in the words of Tony Kornheiser) a human ace bandage. If a player takes his time coming back - think Derrick Rose - he gets criticized for not playing hurt. A player who holds himself out is selfish.
It's one of my theories that we in the media talk like this because we rely on players and coaches as sources, and they have internalized The Sport Ethic. So we extol these attitudes by proxy.
But what is intersting to think of is this: There's so much money involved now, and athletes seem to be more and more aware of the physical risk they face (especially in football). I wonder if we're starting to see a shift in The Sport Ethic, where players are more careful with their bodies, more thinking long term rather than short.
And I wonder if that's the case, how long it will take sports journalism to catch up to this new philosophy.