Playing Through Pain

If you’ve watched or heard about Sunday’s NFL playoff game between the Packers and Bears, you’ve heard about Bears QB Jay Cutler taking himself out of the game at halftime with a knee injury. Many Bears fans were taking it pretty hard, including the Star Tribune’s own La Velle E. Neal III. After the game, videos started sprouting up on YouTube showing angry Bears fans burning their Cutler jerseys (that woman’s cackling in the background makes it seem like she wished they were burning Cutler himself) as their own personal retaliation for his apparently unforgivable act.

Then after the game, reports were surfacing that Cutler had torn his ACL. I’m no doctor, but I’ve seen and heard about enough injuries in sports to know that tearing your ACL is not something you can shake off. Granted, standing on the sideline wasn’t helping Cutler’s case, but I doubt that he could have continued playing and have any success.

The problem with hurting his knee is that both legs are used for throwing. When you cock your arm, your weight transfers to your back foot, then moves to the front foot as your fire the ball. Regardless of which knee he hurt, Cutler was going to have some trouble playing in the game. The same would be true for any baseball pitcher.

Speaking of baseball, a related story involves Michael Cuddyer. After the 2010 season ended, he underwent surgery on his right knee to clean it up since he reported it had been bothering him all season. Despite admitting that it bothered him, Cuddyer went on to claim that the injury had not affected his ability to play during the season. However, Parker Hageman of Over The Baggy disagreed, and I have to say that I side with Parker. Most of Cuddyer’s numbers look similar between 2009 and 2010, except in the power department. His home runs (32 to 14), slugging percentage (.520 to .417), and isolated power (.245 to .146) were significantly lower last season, suggesting that something was not right with Cuddyer.

Another example is J.J. Hardy. Some fans were disappointed that Hardy did not hit even 10 home runs and only hit .268 last season, yet they seem to forget that he attempted to play through a wrist injury that he suffered only a month into the season after sliding into 3rd base on a triple. After spending time on the DL from May 5th to May 25th, he returned and played in 12 games before he hit the DL a second time on June 7th. During those 12 games, Hardy hit only .105 (4 for 38). If you subtracted those AB from his season, Hardy’s batting average would have jumped to .288, a .020 point increase.

Is this a rule that you should sit if you’re hurt? Of course not, some players do play through pain and still manage to succeed. Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and Brad Radke pitching through his shoulder injury in 2006 are two counterexamples that come to mind.

Simply put, we don’t know how Cutler would have performed had he stayed in the game. Common sense would suggest it would have been a bad idea, but that isn’t true for all players. Interestingly enough, the Bears offense struggled until they put in their third QB, Caleb Hanie, near the end of the third quarter.

I’ll admit that it’s different for me because I have no emotional ties to the Bears, but I suppose this post is just a long-winded way of saying to Bears fans, “Give Cutler a break.” As far as I’m concerned, he would have played worse on that torn ACL.

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