Playing Through the Pain

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Warning: Parents, doctors, and youth sports administrators may find the following quite disturbing.

It’s a classic “guy” thing. Playing through the pain. It’s also a throwback thing. It harkens to an era when (especially football) coaches would admonish you for dogging it on account of a presumed injury. These coaches themselves reflect an even earlier epoch, one where boot camp drill sergeants berated new recruits, pushing them up to and then beyond their physical limits.

We can’t do that anymore. We now live in a sissified society, constrained by both the very real fear of catastrophic liability claims and an unnatural craze that decries all things alpha male. There was once a time – from our Founding Fathers through the Greatest Generation – when our country exemplified a rugged resilience best defined by the phrase “playing through the pain.”

Those old enough to have had the honor of experiencing the joys of playing through the pain best remember it in terms of sports, most notably that of the gridiron variety. These boys earned their leadership ranks by setting aside their personal hurt for the sake of the team. They carried the ball that extra yard. They leapt into the air to make that last gasp catch knowing they left themselves defenseless. In short, they dutifully threw their beleaguered bodies into a mass of humanity, in hopes their individual effort might mean the difference in the game, the winning touchdown, the final stop.

For many, the spirit of the game made them numb to the pain. The experienced players knew the next morning would come with poignant aches and bruises, but they would wear them proudly as a personal badge of courage only they could see (and feel).

We have a word that describes those who exhibit the raw discipline to play through the pain: “hero.” We saw them in real life from Bunker Hill to the sands of Iwo Jima to the Mercury Seven. It was not unusual for young boys to imagine themselves giving the ultimate sacrifice for their friends, their unit, their country. And that, my dear reader, is why “playing through the pain” is too important a philosophy to throw away because “we don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”

In the real world, people get hurt. There are no parents, no teachers, no other adult authority to step in like some omnipresent Holden Caufield to catch you before you tumble down the unseen ridge. Life is full of ridges – both seen and unseen. You will tumble down them. You will get hurt. You will learn.

Vince Lombardi famously said, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

Think about every action adventure movie you’ve ever seen. It’s a common trope. The hero, left for dead, rises one final time to do one more thing – always one more thing – that forever changes the lives of those around him for the better. Sometimes the hero survives (thus insuring a sequel), sometimes not. What matters is he chose to rise up again that one last time. To show the others how important life is, how one man can make a difference, how they, too, can be the hero when one day their name is drawn.

To accomplish this, though, they must play through the pain. There’s no “concussion protocol” in real-life. There are only actions. Your actions. Your decisions. No one else’s. Yours alone. Not what some parent, coach, or administrator tells you to do. What you decide to do.

Heroes make their own decisions. Heroes play through the pain. Heroes become heroes because their will, their persistence, and their sheer determination represent the ideal we all strive for.

Be a hero. Play through the pain. Show the world how it’s done.

 

 

The Annual Thanksgiving Mudbowl

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mudbowl-1434436-1598x1062Bring an old weathered football up to your nose, close your eyes, and take a good whiff. Can you smell it? Do images of sweaty muddied gruff men, caked with sweat and blood, move in slow motion within your brain? Do your muscles tighten in pleasant anticipation at the thought of the gridiron? If so, then congratulations. You are part of a dying breed, a member of a secret society that long ago closed its doors to new applicants.

Well, not exactly. Those doors  remain open today and they will forever stay open. It’s just that, in an era of prefabricated microwave cooking, no one wants to go through the Continue Reading “The Annual Thanksgiving Mudbowl”

Soaring With The Eagle… and Beyond

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Sam Carosa - IMG_7127-300x395It snows a lot in the towns south of Buffalo. That’s why they call them the snow belts. So when a young dad wants to teach his two small sons the fundamentals of football, he only has one option: The finished basement of the raised ranch home he built for his family.

That young dad was my father, and those two young sons were the six and seven year-old version of my brother and me. There we were, in our bare feet (lest we slip on the linoleum tiles), running and defending simple pass patterns drawn by our father on the cold basement floor. We’d take turns. One series of plays I was the receiver and Kenny was the defender. The next series of plays Kenny was the receiver and I was the defender. We could barely catch the oversized ball, let alone comprehend the intricacies of basic square outs, buttons, and hooks.

Yet we persevered. Such was our enthusiasm to play the sport that no amount of failure could discourage us. More important, though, were those reassuring words I remember my Continue Reading “Soaring With The Eagle… and Beyond”

Penalize Colorado! Ethics Begins on the Football Field

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the October 18, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259Sure I wanted Notre Dame to score on that last second touchdown pass. Just like a lot of other people, I was disappointed when the receiver dropped the ball. Yet, something else occurred on that particular Saturday which upset me even more.

College football bashing seems to be a regular event among the more erudite columnists. Many people complain the big money business of NCAA football runs counter to the spirit of the educational university. Certainly, we can’t encourage putting bucks ahead of books. But a solid education must Continue Reading “Penalize Colorado! Ethics Begins on the Football Field”

Double Sessions

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the August 23, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259The early mornings of late August forebode the coming end of summer. A slight chill remains above the heavy wet grass until the sun gets high enough to melt the dew. Take a deep breath and you will notice the smell of the season has changed. The dry dustiness has been replaced by a soft gentle odor reminiscent of spring.

Late August mornings encourage us to Continue Reading “Double Sessions”

Some Silly Thoughts…

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the April 12, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

 

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259Yes, I’ve lived in Western New York all my life, but the crazy April snowstorms we get still strike me as silly. “April showers bring May flowers.” I can’t recall any lyrics dealing with April snowstorms.

Once silliness infiltrates my mind, it doesn’t require a whole lot of effort for other absurdities to encroach upon the various unemployed synapses and neurons. For material, one merely needs to review current events…  Continue Reading “Some Silly Thoughts…”

The Greatest Game Ever… So Far!

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The game has come to define my life. You won’t find my name in any record books or even on many rosters, but the game flows through my very blood. Indeed, the Peter_Sports_Cover_300fact I don’t appear within any organized log tells you most of the story. But this, this is a different story.

Gary Trudeau once said we have become a nation of play-by-play announcers. We see life as a narrated live action event. It therefore doesn’t help things that, among the many paths I’ve taken, includes that of actually serving as a play-by-play announcer. But, rather than dwelling on a “voice of God” describing the action, what stands out in my memory remains the visions of modest, yet self-satisfying, glory. Picture not the booming baritone of NFL Films, but the dramatic slow-motion dénouement of a Hollywood picture.

It’s the littlest things I remember: The enormous body floating silently above me that Continue Reading “The Greatest Game Ever… So Far!”

“Hey! You’re Not Supposed to Do That!”

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Screamed the older woman to the group of middle schoolers playing football in the middle of the astroturfed field house. The field house was the University of 585059_95438463_Robot_Football_stock_xchng_royalty_free_300Rochester’s Goergen Athletic Center. The tweens – both boys and girls – were members of various Lego robotics teams. The woman was a coach for one of the teams. Apparently, her concern involved something about the potential of a football crashing into someone’s fragile plastic robot – a potential never realized despite the footballers ignoring her plea.

But, think about the setting before you off-handedly flip the page.

Earlier in the day, at the morning coaches meeting, one of the coaches labeled the Continue Reading ““Hey! You’re Not Supposed to Do That!””

Rediscovering the Fighter Jock

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The weatherman had threatened early snow unsuccessfully for more than a week now, so it comes as no surprise when the early morning rain turns to wet snow. Rediscovering_the_Fighter_Jock_300Still, the first snow always startles, and I pause in observance before entering my cherry red Z-28. I imagine slippery conditions as I pull from the Camaro from my driveway, but by the time I travel the more than twenty miles to the field, only a faint rain precipitates from the clouds.

The fullness of fall could only mean football, a ritualistic pastime beyond the understanding of most of those who play – and impossible to fathom for those who don’t.

*                              *                              *

I can’t remember when self-doubt originally entered my mind. Certainly, years of hard Continue Reading “Rediscovering the Fighter Jock”

Mary Anne was Wrong! The Truth Behind Character and Destiny

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Pondering the meaning of character one evening, I stumbled upon the much quoted citation from George Eliot (whose real name was Mary Anne Evans) in her 1176484_94344918_novel_character_royalty_free_stock_xchng_300masterpiece The Mill on the Floss (1860): “Character is Destiny.” Curiosity getting the better of me, and knowing the exertion would prove effortless, I dug deeper to discover the full context of the quote. It revealed a wonderful irony. It also led to a deeper mystery.

Here’s what Mary Anne wrote:

“Character,” says Novalis, in one of his questionable aphorisms – “Character is Destiny.”

First, let’s get to the beautiful piece of irony. Ol’ Mary Anne apparently didn’t even like Continue Reading “Mary Anne was Wrong! The Truth Behind Character and Destiny”