ESPN's Ross Tucker is a former NFL player and someone who played football through various injuries, both nagging and serious. So it behooves you to see things from his perspective when he tells you that the idea of "pain tolerance" in sports needs to be eradicated:
If a player can play so long as he can handle the pain, what does that say about him if he doesn't?... I didn't need somebody saying publicly that I was capable of playing as long as I could deal with the pain, just as (Tony) Romo and (Antonio) Cromartie shouldn't face that pressure.
Romo, if you missed it, beat the Redskins on Monday night playing with broken ribs, and for his trouble he was feverishly lionized by the ESPN announcing crew, so much so that it's possible Romo has already brought Lazarus back from the dead and ascended to his kingdom in the sky. In sports, pain has long been a badge. You play with it, and you're a god. You miss time because if it, and you're just an ordinary player at best and a coward at worst.
You only need to look at the criticism Jay Cutler faced after leaving the NFC title game earlier this year to see the flipside of not "gutting it out". Cutler was vilified despite the fact that, and I can't stress this enough, NO ONE ON EARTH EXCEPT JAY CUTLER KNEW WHAT JAY CUTLER WAS EXPERIENCING AT THAT EXACT MOMENT.
Pain is an extremely personal thing. No two people experience pain the exact same way. And pain, shockingly, is one facet of modern medicine that doctors are still trying to understand. Real pain, SEVERE pain, can often be its own injury. To say a player needs to only "play through the pain," or to say that a player risks only pain and no further injury when playing, lumps all pain into a single, common thing. Which is lunacy. Pain comes in more varieties than insect species. If you've ever broken a rib, you know that it feels like you've just taken your last breath. It is a DESTRUCTIVE kind of pain, one that can play with your mind and leave its mark on you well after it has subsided. Only you can know what that's like, and for someone else to evaluate it for you, and if it "harmless" pain, is preposterous.
Tucker is right. The people who admire players playing through pain are the same people who resent retired NFLPA members for suing the league for extra benefits. We need to have a better understanding of pain before we go treating it like some sort of casual ailment that can easily be overcome. Perhaps we should all have our ribs broken. I'm sure Tony Romo would be interested in pitching in.