This week has been bookended by two players at the top of their sports being cut down, at least for the year (I am not buying Terrell Suggs’ optimism that he will be back in November). Suggs tore his Achilles playing a pick-up game of basketball while Yankees star closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL while shagging fly balls during batting practice, a regular practice for both players and a way they try to stay in shape. It would be easy to use this as an opportunity to question what players should be allowed to do, but it is important now more than ever to recognize that players need the freedom to exercise on their own terms regardless of what fluky but terrible accidents might happen.
In sports, perhaps more than any other career path, one’s economic wellbeing is determined by their performance. If they fail to perform in the NFL they will be cut with minimal repercussions to their employer, and even in baseball players are constantly playing for the next contract. There is no flying below the radar and keep collecting pay in professional sports. As such, the best keep themselves in incredible shape and constantly train, and it can’t always be under team supervision.
Athletes are not gerbils. We cannot put them on a regimen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire year, moving from the hamster wheel to a specially approved diet. Fans can’t put them in a box and keep them from harm. These are athletes; they need the license to be athletic. If Terrell Suggs wants to play basketball in the offseason, let him. If Mariano Rivera wants to stay in shape by shagging fly balls in the outfield before games he should be allowed to. However these players made it as far as they did in terms of conditioning they should be allowed to continue.
I am not talking about riding a motorcycle without a helmet, skydiving, parkour, rock climbing without a harness, or any other activity that is excessively dangerous. But if someone wants to go jogging in their neighborhood, go bowling with friends, help a family member move, or, yes, play Guitar Hero like a madman, let them. The fact that they are being paid millions of dollars gives teams the license to control their every movement during the season, but even teams don’t have the time to control everything.
If Suggs was on his treadmill and slipped our reaction should not be to ban treadmills. If Rivera got in a car accident our reaction should not be to ban athletes from driving. Things happen in life, freak accidents that can bring down even the most physically imposing athletic specimen. They don’t happen to the rest of us as often because we are not out there doing athletic activities nearly as often.
When a player goes down our instinct is to do something to make sure that it never happens again. In this case I hope all of my team’s players are doing everything they can to stay in shape. It is better for one of them to go down in the offseason than all of them to wind up unprepared for the season. Let them train they way they are accustomed and more than that, let them have their own lives. If they don’t play they will suffer far more than the fans.