If you're a reader of this blog, you know I have a pretty endless fascination with The Sport Ethic. If you're new, The Sport Ethic is a concept from sociologists Hughes and Coakley that examines some commonly held attitudes among elite athletes (and the subsequent consequences of those attitudes). One of the core attitudes of The Sport Ethic is playing through pain, playing while hurt, sacrificing your health for the team and for the game.
Which is why the Derrick Rose story fascinates me so much. Rose is coming off a torn-up knee, has been cleared to play by team doctors but still hasn't played. Complicating the story is the fact that many of his Bulls teammates are playing through illnesses or injury, and that the Bulls are doing better than expected in the playoffs, having beaten the Heat in game one on Monday night. Rose has been getting killed in certain areas of the Chicago media for not playing.
This isn't the first time this has popped up recently. The RGIII controversy in January was a textbook example of The Sport Ethic. A better comparison for the Rose story would be the Washington Nationals' decision to shut down Steven Strasburg last year. But there was a key difference - last year, Strasburg wanted to keep pitching but the Senators made the decision to shut him down. They took the long-term view of what was best for their franchise - potentially sacrificing short-term success for long-term viability. That was the team making that decision.
This is a player doing it. This is a player putting his own health and his own future ahead of the short-term benefits of his team.
What's surprising to me is how much support Rose is getting in some media circles. Mike Wilbon, a vocal Bulls fan, has been vocally in support of Rose's decision. Tim McKeown is correct on ESPN: Rose can't win no matter what he does.
The star player is supposed to return early from injury. He's supposed to fight the doctors and his trainers and coaches to get out on the court or field to come to the aid of his teammates. He's supposed to jog out onto the court to the thunderous ovation from appreciative fans who will forever be indebted to the man who played through the pain.
These columns, and others, are casting The Sport Ethic in a new light. It's questioning the conventional wisdom of the locker room and of talk radio. It's looking at things from the players' point of view rather than swallowing the established storyline we all expect. It's suggesting that maybe some norms valued by The Sport Ethic may be outdated, or wrong. Maybe playing when a player isn't 100 percent isn't always the best thing for the player and the team. Maybe we in the media and in the stands place too much faith in the myth of Willis Reed, of the flu game, of Jack Youngblood playing on a broken leg and forget the players who come back too early, too hobbled, too ineffective.
Maybe The Sport Ethic is starting to change, slowly and gradually.