Blog Author: Eric Vargas, University Assistant and Counseling Education Graduate Student at Central Connecticut State University
There was a time when toughness was defined by the amount of hurt and pain one could endure without faltering in emotion. American professional football had an unwritten standard that regardless of the risk, getting hurt was a normal part of the job. Being a “man” meant continuing throughout the game without considering one’s health and well being. Men’s bodies were sacrificed for the price of one’s enjoyment and entertainment. Although we still see the “tough guy” trend, especially in our up and coming youth, there has been a wealth of concern for players’ well being in the past decade. We saw the trend of protecting defenseless players and quarterbacks step up in 2010 with the thousands of dollars James Harrison, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, would have to pay for fines. In prior years, hard hits were permitted and encouraged. It can be said that quite a few people stand disappointed for the new standards, although nothing much of the game has changed. Yet the players will eventually reap the rewards for taking care of oneself for it is more important to be around as a son, father, husband, etc. before winning a game any day.
Ben Roethlisberger spoke up about self-care today. Apparently in the Steelers-Seahawks game this week, there was a penalty on Passing Interference. Ben got hit after he had thrown the ball. Because this man is built big, tough and rugged, the referees usually never call it for him and he usually plays through injuries, again, regardless of the risks. This time was different. He could have kept playing but something was different. Within nine drives Ben began feeling the effects of a concussion. The doctors had not noticed, yet he was brave enough to step out of the game. Ben spoke out about the decision saying that he thought about his family, being a husband and father. Something clicked that his life was more valuable than winning a game.
As we take this step forward to setting a new standard of what “toughness” is, we witness that tough does not have to imply withholding one’s humanity. Tough can be a situation of vulnerability without shame or guilt of existing as an imperfect human being. This time, Ben had something to live for beyond the career. Yet men may not have families to go to or an aspiration for more in life. Ben’s testimony on self-care, as it pertains to head injuries, must be expanded to all injury. Another thought is: When will waking up in the morning be reason enough to take care of oneself? The toughest quarterback in the league set a standard of self-care and self-regulation. Regardless of what people think, acting and speaking out on the issue was an act of courage. Let us, men, be like Ben and speak up when we need something. Toughness shall no longer be pure pain and suffering nor physical sacrifices. Toughness rethought can reflect a man’s willingness to trust, love and care for oneself in an authentic way through vulnerability and accepting imperfection.