bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: I actually feel like an athlete for the first time

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I write this from my sofa, where I have been pretty firmly planted for the last week since back surgery on Monday. Although it is a bit of a reach, my surgery and what led up to it has given me a bit of an insight into the challenges faced by athletes everywhere. I have none of the same stuff riding on it as the professionals, as far as money and fame, but I am starting to understand the difficulty in recognizing that there are things that you may not be able to do anymore.

I have never been much of an athlete. Sure, I played all kinds of sports when I was a kid, mostly with my neighborhood friends. My neighbors and I played baseball, football, basketball, and street hockey, spending most summer days outside, along with the afternoons after school the rest of the year. I played Little League baseball for several years, and played in leagues for a bunch of different sports at my summer camp. Once I got past school age, my level of athletic activity decreased until my greatest source of exercise was getting up from the couch. Last summer, though, one of my daughters wanted to go out and run at a nearby park and I said I would go with her. My other daughter went with us as well. Mind you, if you had lined up all of the distances I had run in my life end to end, I am not sure it would have added up to a mile. To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed it. Going every other day, it took me about a month to be able to run a mile without slowing to a walk at any point. My daughters stopped going after a few weeks, but I had caught the bug. I continued to run every other day through the summer and fall, stretching myself out to the point where I was able to run much longer distances, with a long run of 9 miles happening on New Year’s Day. Right around that time, though, I started experiencing back pain, likely related to the demolition of our hall bathroom that I had been working on. The back pain turned out to be a herniated disc that quickly began squeezing the nearby nerve, causing leg pain that made it hard to stand, let alone walk or run.

It was an amazing thing to me to realize that the fact that I was unable to go out and run was as big an issue for me as the pain itself. There is something addictive about running, I guess, and I was really missing it. Sure, I hated the fact that doing just about anything was hurting me, but I spent much of the time thinking about what it would take to get back out on the trail. I went through a series of epidural steroid shots to try to eliminate the pain, and while I did get some relief from one of the shots, it only got me about 60-70% there. At that point, I had a decision to make. I could deal with the discomfort and wait to see if the disc problem would fix itself, which disc problems sometimes do, or I could get surgery. After four months, it did not seem overly likely that the problem would just get better, but as the orthopedist said to me, I wouldn’t die from this, and it was unlikely to get any worse. I chose surgery, in large part because I knew it would allow me to run the soonest.

Professional athletes are faced with this issue all the time. When they are young, it is easy to go get the surgery and get back to their careers. I have been thinking about the older athletes, though, who must have to think long and hard about what they should do to keep their careers going. Jamie Moyer, a pitcher who most recently played for the Phillies, will be 49 this year, and is current recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he got this past year with the full intention of continuing his pitching career. He has made plenty of money during his long career, so he can only be doing this because he loves the game and hates the thought of not playing it anymore. Every year, many athletes must face this same question. Some probably choose to give it up and move on with their lives. Some decide that they will do whatever it takes to keep playing. For the first time in my life, I can understand, at least somewhat, the challenges of being an athlete. It’s been a painful experience, but that realization makes me feel oddly good.

Good sports, continued:

2) Ted Larsen, an offensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a true hero on Wednesday. He was fishing off the coast of Florida when he encountered some boaters who had capsized while kayaking. He pulled the people to safety and took them to shore.

Bad sports:

1) Baltimore Ravens safety and occasional boxer Tom Zbikowski reportedly failed a drug test after a boxing match in Oklahoma last weekend. He was suspended by the Chickasaw Nation Gaming Commission, but the suspension was later lifted when he passed a subsequent test and some questions were raised about the initial testing process, which had produced questionable results for some other fighters that same night.

2) Jason Hunter, a defensive end for the Denver Broncos, was stabbed on Wednesday in Detroit. The investigation thus far has centered on his girlfriend.

3) Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, a former major league pitcher for the Mets and Phillies, has been suspended for two weeks without pay by Major League Baseball for his behavior before a game last week, when he used homophobic language and crude, threatening actions against some fans during batting practice at a game between the Braves and the San Francisco Giants.

4) An Ohio University defensive lineman died on Wednesday after an apparent heart attack. Marcellis Williamson was 22 years old.

5) Continuing the bad week for the Atlanta Braves, pitcher Derek Lowe was charged with a DUI on Thursday night in Atlanta. Lowe was not only drunk, but was racing another driver when he was stopped.

6) After being ejected for arguing balls and strikes, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen tweeted several times from the clubhouse, posting negative messages about the umpire that had tossed him. The rules against use of social media during games led to the two game suspension that Guillen then received.

Bad sports, good sports appears every Monday.

Alan Spoll is a software quality assurance director from the suburbs of Philadelphia where he lives with his wonderful wife and children. He has spent his entire life as a passionate fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, and Penn State. Recent Phillies success aside, you will understand his natural negativity. Follow me on Twitter - @DocAlan02
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3 Responses to “Bad sports, good sports: I actually feel like an athlete for the first time”

  1. Hey Alan, this was a good read. (The top part; I only skimmed the bottom, though “drunk” caught my eye.)

    Do what you need to do to keep yourself… ah… unhurt!

  2. Thanks Andrew!

  3. Get well, soon, Alan!

    You’re right about the resiliency of younger athletes. With a doctor’s permission – and with regular checkups by that doctor – my 15-year-old son played a full season as a keeper for his club soccer team – fractured vertebra notwithstanding! Me? I’d have been parked on a sofa myself.

    “Good News” out of West Texas … we’re sending a hometown boy Pennsylvania-way. Texas Tech running back Baron Batch, who used to tear up the field for our Midland High Bulldogs, has been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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