Suckers for pain, or no pain no gain?

With David Haye's efforts to play through his injury against Tony Bellew, our writers debate whether athletes should do it, and instances where it's happened in the past

Jack Lacey-Hatton
13th March 2017
Right or wrong: David Haye tried to play through his ankle injury. Image: Wikimedia Commons

After Haye lasted 11 rounds in his bout against Bellew after injuring his ankle we ask, should athletes continue playing through injury? And we take a look at three times when sports people push themselves to the limit.

Yes: "I do admire the bravery"

Stay with me on this one, it’s not easy to defend what some will see as the indefensible, but I will give it a go. Sport is not just a game, it’s a battle. Today’s athletes are the modern day equivalent of Roman gladiators, so why shouldn’t they act like it? Most elite conflicts are extremely draining- mentally, and often physically. If you want to be an athlete but don’t want to go through the pain barrier, go and play chess.

Injuries are a part of sport we cannot change but we can stop the hysteria surrounding them. The reason this is a talking point this week is obviously because of Saturday night’s big fight. David Haye fought on despite suffering a major Achilles injury in the sixth round. Personally I am not a massive fan of the ‘Hayemaker’, but I do admire the bravery he displayed in the 02 on Saturday. What would have happened if he had pulled out as soon as he felt something was wrong? Millions of fans watching around the country, and the thousands in attendance, would have felt short-changed. And rightly so.

“Today’s athletes are the modern day equivalent of Roman gladiators, so why shouldn’t they act like it?”

Professional sport is utterly ruthless to the point where most of the time, the best tactic to employ is the one your opponent least wants you to do. Essentially to be as awkward as possible. Playing on through injury is often what your opponent least wants you to do, they want you to crumble.

A classic example would be the very famous image of a bloodied Terry Butcher (ex-England captain) during a qualifier against Sweden. When the Swedes managed to cut his forehead early on, they probably thought they had taken England’s best defender out of the game. Instead a defiant Butcher came back on with stitches and bandages galore, before proceeding to head the ball as hard as he possibly could, with England claiming a draw. A remarkable show of strength.

This kind of determination separates those who manage to get to the very top from the rest of us. If the athlete wants to continue and does not have a major injury, what’s the problem?

Jack Lacey-Hatton

No: "a potentially fatal injury"

Sporting injuries vary from mildly debilitating to potentially life-threatening. This isn’t just your classic playground scrapes and bruises – its sprained ankles, broken bones and dislocated shoulders. Those nasty things can end sporting careers, yet certain athletes play through the injury in an effort to appear invincible, whatever the consequences.

This is a fool’s errand. You might hear talk of bravery and praise, but is the pain really worth it? After all, regardless of an injury’s severity, the athlete it affects will naturally be limited in their performance. For team sports, this could very easily put your side at a disadvantage that may ultimately cost you the game.

What feels like a mild injury may actually be much more serious, and continuing to play only increases the chances of further damage.

In the 1956 FA Cup Final, Manchester City goalie Bert Trautmann damaged his neck in a collision with Peter Murphy. Although his decision to carry on was crucial to City’s victory, Trautmann later discovered he had dislocated five of his neck vertebrae.

“You might hear talk of bravery and praise but is the pain really worth it?”

If it weren’t for one vertebra having lodged against another, this could have been a potentially fatal injury – but who’s to say that one badly-timed save or tackle might have reversed that luck?

Taking the time to recover ensures an athlete returns to their best as soon as possible. Look at 18-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer; following his first Wimbledon semi-final defeat, the King of Grass decided to cut short his 2016 season in order to focus on recovering from his knee injury.

When he came back to our screens in January 2017 at the Australian Open, he won his 18th title in a momentous victory against rival Nadal, who he hadn’t beaten in a Grand Slam since 2007.

For the majority of professional athletes, life truly revolves around their sport. Constant training and competition is how these sporting elites pay their bills, but playing through an injury could quickly put an end to that. Why take the risk?

Lily Earnshaw

Wayne  Shelford

A ballsy performance from All-Black Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford in the second test cap of his career may have been 31 years ago, but will remain in rugby legend for as long as the sport exists.

The test against France is referred to by fans as the ‘Battle of Nantes’ (after a series of significant battles of the French revolution) in recognition of its consistently brutal nature.

At 20 minutes into the match, a stray French boot found Shelfords’ jaw in the bottom of a ruck, and displaced three of his teeth, but the massive no.8 was not to be stopped.

Next, a stud to the scrotum in yet another aggressive defensive ruck left one of Shelfords’ testicles exposed. Yet despite the agonising pain he must have felt, the All-Black jogged off the pitch to the side-line where he had the team physio stitch him up, and returned straight back onto the pitch to re-engage in the battle.

"His drive, fearless determination and love for the sport of rugby have remained an inspiration"

In the later minutes of the first half, a blow to the forehead left Shelford knocked out for a short amount of time. On regaining consciousness captain Jock Hobbs told him that he had to play on as the players on the bench were all injured and could not replace him.

It wasn’t until the midpoint of the second half when a third clash to Shelfords’ head increased his concussion to the point where he was too confused to play that he was substituted off the pitch.

In various interviews following the game, Shelford claims that his recollection of occurrences are extremely hazy and the later stages are absent completely from his memory.

Following this performance, Shelford was appointed captain of the All-Blacks and for the entirety of his captainship, between 1987 and 1990, the team were unbeaten.

Buck Shelford was controversially dropped from the national squad in 1990 but his drive, fearless determination and love for the sport of rugby have remained an inspiration to Kiwis and sportspeople all over the world, and look to continue for a long time.

Sydney  Isaacs

Dietmar Hamman

The 25th May 2005 is remembered for one thing and one thing only, that one night in Istanbul: Liverpool’s Champions League win against AC Milan, overturning a three goal deficit to win on penalties.

Whilst the heroics of Steven Gerrard and Jerzy Dudek will always live on, one thing that is often forgotten is Dietmar Hamann’s penalty in the shootout – taken and converted with a broken foot that astonishingly was not discovered until over a week later when the German had then reported for international duty.

“I can remember when I did it but not how. I was determined to shake it off, despite the discomfort. Running on sheer adrenaline wasn’t a problem and by time I walked up to the penalty spot I’d forgotten about it.”

"Sometimes playing through injuries comes naturally to a professional sportsman"

Hamannn suffered the broken foot in extra time but barely noticed due to the enormity of the celebrations after the game.

Instead the Liverpool team doctor patched him up with a bag of ice and he was able to revel in one of the most famous Champions League wins of all time.

“When I took my penalty, all that mattered was that I scored” added the German, proving that sometimes playing through injuries comes naturally to a professional sportsman when the size of the occasion ramps up the adrenaline.

Tom Harrow-Smith

Tiger Woods

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods was in his prime, in the middle of a record 281 consecutive weeks at number one and consistently winning a number of tournaments, including 12 majors.

However in 2007 he ruptured his ACL in his troublesome left knee after going for a run. Yet he continued to play, winning five out of his next six events. Then in 2008 he went through supposedly routine surgery on his knee just two days after coming second in the British Open. Just two months later he returned to play the US Open.

Tiger started shakily on the first and second days  but soon managed to pick up pace to brilliantly reach the play-off and dramatically take the win on the first hole against his fellow compatriot Rocco Mediate. Fellow golfer Kenny Perry remarked that “he beat everybody on one leg” with Woods calling it “my greatest ever championship”.

"Yet he continued to play, winning five out of his next six events"

It was later revealed that Woods’ injuries were more severe than first thought,  having actually broken his leg, and he later announced that he needed more surgery on his knee and would be missing the remainder of the season.

Unfortunately it appears that Woods’ 13th major was rather unlucky in hindsight. A year later following his return he was caught up in an affair scandal, and has struggled with a number of injuries. Woods has never won a major since.

It makes you wonder, did Tiger push himself too far or was it this determination to win no matter what, that made him one of the greatest, if not the greatest, golfers of all time?

Tom Shrimplin

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