We in the world take for granted the power that we have, our voices that are waiting to be counted when we're hurting. It's often said that the culture of American medicine, from practitioners to patients, is based in reactivity, not proactivity. It's magnified and glorified particularly in sports, where saving face and testing your might is paramount to admitting defeat in physiology, even when your body speaks louder than you can.
Retired Hall of Fame-bound lineman Jason Taylor and I share a common bond -- we both suffered from long bouts of plantar fasciitis. When I was first afflicted, I had previously trail-ran on rocks for over two miles in the wilderness. When Taylor suffered from it, he was first left prone to the same tearing of foot tissue from Toradol pain injections that left him self-medicating with catheters in his armpits, standing in his staircase in slumber, and bleeding inside his leg profusely enough that amputation was a distinct possibility.
When my body spoke, I didn't have to refer to a culture that dictates that pride prevail over the tearing of sinew and emasculation -- I referred to my better sense of well-being. When Taylor's body spoke, the gridiron gladiator interjected and referred to the vainglory of a Dan Marino quote in the Miami Dolphins training room.
He was expected, by canon of the culture of the pro locker room, to compromise his own personal advocacy. At the risk of giving up his own leg.
As Dan Le Batard, of The Miami Herald and ESPN fame, detailed, when he didn’t follow the more common-sensible methodology to healing, he kept his backup from taking his job. He won Defensive Player of The Year. He got his words immortalized right next to the same Marino quote on the wall.
The world saw the brutally awkward and painful instability of Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III’s right leg and knee on January 6, twisting inward at a right angle, as he crumpled to the FedEx Field turf. An LCL and (second) ACL surgery was performed on the Baylor graduate, and now the world waits to see whether the NFL’s shiniest star will ever be the same on-field.
Though he was cautiously cleared to play, Griffin explained that he was “the QB of this team and I don’t think being out there hurt the team.” Fellow Redskins teammate London Fletcher chimed in, saying, “He earned the right to be out there” – but when will the players’ voices be muted and the damage of bodies be allowed to speak in place of the audible noise? When will the decency of honest advocacy prevail and foolish pride succumb?
Last November, when New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis lost time to injury, his head coach said, “It's a man's game. They're treating these guys like they're 5 years old.”
But NFL men like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson didn’t just lose time – they lost their lives. Had honest advocacy and protection been their outspoken inner children, they would likely be alive today.
A layman like me or a Hall of Famer like Taylor should never have to sacrifice decency of health for the hubris of manhood. After two miles, after four quarters, or even after a decade of excellence.
Change is gonna come. It’s gotta come.