In life, there is a fine line between dedication and insanity. Sports is among those areas in which that fine line is blurred and, in many cases, bled upon. Most of us are taught in our formative years that if you're hurt, for God's sake don't get up and don't run around. Just wait for mommy, she'll make it better.
Even in adult life, many of us are coddled. In Canada (for example, I can't speak for the laws in other nations) it is the responsibility of an employer to get an ergonomic assessment done for any employee who complains of pain in the work place. "Toughen up and close your mouth" is a thing of the past, and to be quite blunt; sad, wimpy, complainers are rewarded for their sad existences. With that said there are still some people who do have to pull it together and buck up.
Military members, cops and other first responder types are among the first who come to mind. There is no pause button in a war zone and there is no time for those who can't handle some pain. All respect to combat arms soldiers, they know how to shrug off pain and keep in the fight; literally. Less admirable, but still impressive are laborers; movers, construction workers and anyone who works with their hands. Stopping a job because of a boo-boo isn't always an option.
While athletes' bodies may be finely tuned machines, competitors are often asked to destroy them during a game or match. Money, glory and a reputation are on the line every time an athletes steps onto the field/ice/court, and there is rarely an excuse to stop. Concussions are often considered reason enough for an athlete to walk out of a game, but no coach wants it to happen and egos sometimes keep athletes in the game, no matter what the injury. Recently, UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo pulled out of his title defense fight against Irish smack-talker Conor McGregor, due to broken ribs. There was some buzz however, that he would seek approval to fight regardless. This did not happen, but if it had, Aldo would have joined the ranks of athletes who competed despite severe pain. Here are twenty of the most brutal injuries that athletes have fought their way through.
21 Bonus: Mike Tyson - Gonorrhea
It's not technically an injury, but Mike Tyson fought while suffering from a case of gonorrhea. The bout was between Iron Mike and Trevor Berbick back in 1986 and was for the Heavyweight title. Tyson won handily but in his own words Mike Jr was "burning like a Good Humor in July." Again, it's not quite an injury, but we're talking about the most sensitive and cherished of male parts, and to have that stinging and burning going on while trying to tactically brutalize someone is unimaginable. Sure it would make one angry, but one can imagine that most gents would curl up in the fetal position while begging for antibiotics.
20 Curt Schilling - Ankle
It was back during the 2004 MLB playoffs when one of the best pitchers of the era, Curt Schilling, sustained a serious injury to one of the tendons in his ankle. The Boston Red Sox would go on to win the World Series, and Schilling pitched a game leading up to that victory, despite having undergone surgery to repair his ankle. He was in noticeable pain and a distinct red stain appeared on his sock while still in the American League Championships against the New York Yankees. At the time, many called into question his claim of injury, claiming Schilling had used ketchup to draw sympathy from fans. In November 2014, he posted a picture of his stitched up ankle with the message: "Found this in an old folder, for all you ketchup dinks." Myth Busted.
19 Derek Redmond - Torn Hamstring
For a beautiful and heartwarming story, look no further. Those who live outside of Great Britain may have no idea who Redmond is, but his fans know he is one of the most successful sprinters in his country's history. The multiple gold medal winner and national record holder was running in the 400 meter semi-final at the 1992 Barcelona games when he tore his hamstring. It wasn't just a slight tear however, it was more like completely ripping the muscle off the bone. He didn't do what most of us would have done however (fall down and cry), as he limped and tried to continue the race, receiving help from his father and completing a full lap.
18 Willis Reed - Torn Quad
Back in 1970, the New York Knicks were taking on the L.A. Lakers. It was game seven of the series, and Wilt Chamberlain had led the Lakers to a huge win in game six. Willis Reed, the seven time All-Star center for the Knicks, had torn his quad earlier in the series and was not expected to play. Before the start of game seven however, he demanded that he be allowed on the court and scored the first two baskets of the game. They were his only points, but his mere presence in the game pumped up the fans and his team so much that many attribute the team's eventual win to his bravery.
17 Terry Butcher - Major Laceration
Oftentimes, we in North America who are not soccer fans will mock the sport for the fact that some of the players like to fall on the ground and cry when the wind blows the wrong direction. Terry Butcher, who played on England's National Team for over a decade, is not that type of player. Back in 1989, during a World Cup qualifying match against Sweden, Butcher ripped open his head early in the game after a collision. He was stitched up, but when he continued to head the ball throughout the game, the stitches wouldn't hold and he ended up with a crimson jersey.
16 Tiger Woods - Broken Leg and Torn ACL
Back just a year before his sex scandal, Tiger Woods was still one of the most admired athletes in the world and in 2008, he won the U.S. Open on a leg with stress fractures and a knee that featured a torn ligament. It was at the ruthlessly tough Bethpage Black course in New York, and Tiger had one of the most difficult tournaments in the history of golf. After tough first and second days, he made two eagles in the final six holes. On day four, he miraculously birdied the 18th hole; forcing an 18 hole playoff. They were tied at the end of that and when the tournament went to sudden death, Tiger won on the first hole. His leg was operated on just a few days later.
15 Franz Beckenbauer - Broken Collarbone
One of the greatest footballers in Germany's history, Beckenbauer was also a trooper. One of the most revolutionary players of his time, he is credited as one of the first defenders to actively join the offensive side of the game. In the 1970 World Cup, during the semi-final game against Italy, Beckenbauer was fouled and broke his collarbone in the process. Germany, having already used their substitutions, chose to keep him in the game and he simply ran around the field with his arm in a sling the entire game.
14 Walt Garrison - Broken Ribs
In a sport that specializes in making tough guys crumble, here is one of the most pain-resistant in the history of the NFL. Dallas Cowboys running back Walt Garrison would have probably have kept playing football after someone had hypothetically fed him through a wood-chipper. His tough style of play saw him retired at age 30. In 1970, he played in the NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers; a game that he finished, despite breaking three ribs and his collarbone.
13 Rajon Rondo - Dislocated Elbow
Four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo, who is now a free agent after nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, suffered a dislocated elbow back in 2011. Such an injury usually involves muscle and ligament damage (if not bone and blood vessel damage) and takes over a month to heal. Rondo returned to the game just a few minutes later and played the rest of the game.
12 Philip Rivers - Torn ACL
The San Diego Chargers quarterback is currently headed into his twelfth season in the league. He's either one of the most overrated or underrated quarterbacks depending on what omniscient fan you talk to. Back in early 2008, he was dealing with a serious ACL tear and had arthroscopic surgery to essentially jury-rig his knee back together before the AFC Championship game. The Chargers lost to the Patriots in the game but when fans finally realized that Rivers had played with a torn ACL, his dedication became unquestioned. He required more invasive surgery during that offseason to properly fix the leg.
11 Kirk Gibson - Multiple Leg Injuries
Looking back to 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers were an underdog in the MLB World Series. It was Gibson's first year with the team and he had become the team's star. Heading into the World Series against the Oakland Athletics, Gibson had sustained a torn hamstring in his right leg and ligament problems in his left knee. He was a mess, and could barely hobble. In the first game of the World Series, he did not start the game, but in the ninth inning, while the A's were trying to close out the series opener, Gibson got called to pinch hit. He stumbled his way out to the batter's box to face down Dennis Eckersley, one of the better closing pitchers of that era. With a 3-2 count he knocked a slider out of the park, giving the Dodgers their first of four wins on the way to the World Series victory. He did not play again during the series.
10 Ronnie Lott - Destroyed/Amputated Finger
No list of gutsy athletes with unheard of amounts of heart can be complete without the NFL's most prolific defensive back of all time. He is, don't question it. Alright, question it, but don't disrespect the man who mangled his pinky finger making a tackle in 1985 and then demanded that the tip of that digit be removed so that he could return to the game. Sure, it's just a pinky, but the man lost a part of his body. It would have hurt like hell, but like the warrior he was, Lott sacrificed it, taped up the stump and went back in. It shows the kind of heart one needs to win four Super Bowls.
9 Steve Yzerman - Knee/Leg Issues
Hockey is a sport in which losing a couple of teeth and returning to the game is not even a question. With that said, there have been some players who have redefined toughness in the sport. Steve Yzerman is one of those. His trainer once speculated that his brain must be wired differently because his pain tolerance was through the roof. Yzerman played through the entire 2002 NHL playoffs and led the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory with only one good leg. That wasn't to say his other leg was just in a bit of pain, as he had sustained ligament damage and had worn the connective tissues in his knee down to the point where as he described it, every stride on the ice felt like bone scraping against bone.
8 Jack Youngblood - Broken Leg
Hall of Fame inducted defensive end Jack Youngblood had a period of his career that was very similar to Steve Yzerman's 2002 playoffs. Youngblood was another interesting breed of tough and has been called the John Wayne of football for his unflinching demeanor. In 1980, he played all the way through the playoffs and the Pro Bowl with a broken fibula. That's the outer bone of the lower leg for those of you who aren't anatomically informed. The key thing to understand here is that he played in the Pro Bowl. This is the All-Star game for the NFL and it COMPLETELY DOESN'T MATTER. But Youngblood was a crazy person and played in it anyway.
7 Byron Leftwich - Broken Tibia
Now retired, quarterback Byron Leftwich played just over a decade in the NFL. While he has a Super Bowl ring, he earned it backing up Ben Roethlisberger while with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009. Prior to his professional career, he played for the Marshall Thundering Herd. In 2002, he broke his left tibia (larger bone in the lower leg) in a game against the Akron Zips. His team ended up losing the game, but he stayed in it despite being carried down the field by two of his linemen.
6 Shun Fujimoto - Knee
Away from American football for a second, we'll quickly recall a Japanese gymnast who shocked the world at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Early in the competition, Fujimoto broke part of his knee, but decided not to leave. Later, during the rings exercise he performed a nearly perfect routine and dismount, but dislocated his already damaged knee, mangling the ligaments before limping away.
5 Y.A. Tittle - Broken Sternum
And now we get back to football, the sport for the unnecessarily intense. Another quarterback, Y.A. (Yelberton Abraham) Tittle is a Hall of Fame member who player for the Baltimore Colts, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers between 1948 and 1964. This was back in the days when hitting a quarterback was more encouraged. Early in his last year in the NFL, he was sacked with extreme prejudice by Pittsburgh Steeelers defensive end John Baker.
During the hit, he sustained a serious concussion and a broken sternum. The sternum is the bone in the middle of the chest that joins the two sides of the rib-cage together. He went on to play the rest of the season with this injury.
4 Chris Simms - Ruptured Spleen
For a quick background, the spleen is a small organ in the abdomen that is involved in filtering infection and old blood cells. In short, it stores stuff, much of which is harmful. A ruptured spleen is not only excruciatingly painful, it is also a serious medical emergency.
Quarterback Chris Simms, who was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the time, suffered a ruptured spleen in 2006. In a late September game against the Carolina Panthers, Simms was getting knocked around the field and at one point was removed from the action. He returned to the game but suffered serious discomfort. The Bucs lost and Simms was taken to hospital when he determined that there was a problem. Doctors determined that his pain was from a ruptured spleen and had he not shown up for surgery when he had, his condition could have been fatal.
3 Bobby Baun - Broken Ankle
Bobby Baun was a "tough as nails" defenceman who played much of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs when they were a contender. In 1964, he broke his ankle after blocking a shot from Gordie Howe in game six of the Stanley Cup finals. He left the game briefly but came back, scoring the overtime goal that would force game seven. The Leafs won game seven, in which Baun also played with a heavily taped ankle and tons of painkillers. When doctors finally examined his ankle, it was a complete mess, but that is the cost of being a champion.
2 Brett Favre - Damaged Intestine/Broken Thumb (Among other smaller injuries)
Brett Favre was another quarterback who played with toughness not seen in the position today. There are two examples of this that stand out in his football career. In college, just before his senior year, he flipped his car and had thirty inches of intestine removed. The surgery was very invasive,and while he had improved by September, he was nowhere near 100%, when, just five weeks later, he led Southern Mississippi to a victory over Alabama.
Later on, in 2003, he was suffering from a broken thumb but continued to play football. In 2006, he played much of the season with ankle damage that required surgery after the season. Nearly all NFL players claim to have played with concussions and Favre was no exception to that, having taken some of the hardest hits the league has ever seen. Throughout it all, the gunslinger was still able to set the record for consecutive starts with 297.
1 Bert Trautmann - Broken Neck
After being born in Germany and serving in World War Two, Bert Trautmann stayed in England after being captured and held as a prisoner of war. He rose to prominence as a goal keeper and ended up playing at the highest level (Division One) in 1949 for Manchester City, where he played for fifteen years.
In 1956, he was injured while diving at an opposing player's legs to make a save. His neck was in severe pain but he would not leave the match. His team won and he was later revealed to have dislocated several vertebrae in his neck and broken two. His doctors told him it was a small miracle he was alive, as any slight shifting of these pieces of his neck could have cost him mobility or his life.