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.

 

 

Leadership Lessons of Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the first president to die in office, but he was the first president to be assassinated. While credited as being the president who unified a divided country and cementing the notion of a single United States of America rather than a group of states united on the American continent, he came into office as one of the most controversial and divisive presidents. Yet, today, we revere him for his character, his wholesomeness, and his willingness to make personal sacrifices to get the job done.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky and, unlike William Henry Harrison, was a true frontiersman, having grown up in Kentucky and Indiana before moving to Illinois. During the era when we celebrated Lincoln’s birthday as a separate holiday, we’d hear stories of his life. Whether apocryphal or true, it didn’t matter, for they burned into our minds and hearts an ideal we were inspired to make as our own life’s work to continually strive for. The totality of Lincoln’s life offers many lessons. Here are just three:Continue Reading “Leadership Lessons of Abraham Lincoln”

A Parent’s Lament

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helicopter-3-1310424Has this ever occurred to you as we enter the season of celebration for all those graduating from high school: There are an awful lot of speeches made on behalf of these newly minted scholars, but precious few devoted to their parents.

It’s been a year now since Betsy and I officially became empty nesters. We’ve been told there are two typical responses from new empty nesters: Building a shrine in the suddenly vacant room of their now adult children; or, Reverting back to the hectic social life one had before those same children entered the picture. Or course, if you’re like us and had no social life to begin with, there’s a third way: Be too busy to notice anything.

But I’ll leave the various strategies for empty nesters for a later session. Here the lament of which I speak is akin to the “letting the birds fly” concept. Like peanut allergies, it appears this affliction occurs more frequently today than in past generations. But we need to go back a few generations to identify the Continue Reading “A Parent’s Lament”

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”