When the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose crumpled to the floor in pain that fateful night in April of 2012, we all feared the worse–another ACL tear for a young and dynamic athlete. Soon, fears were confirmed. Rose had indeed torn his ACL and would miss the rest of the basketball season. Immediately, speculation about his timeline to return began. Would he be ready in 6 months just in time for the next season? Would he return around Christmas? After the All-Star break? For the first round of the playoffs?
By the time it became clear that Rose would miss the entire season, his name had been dragged through the mud by fans and even by leakers in his own organization. Rose was called soft and accused of leaving his team hanging. Fans and some in the press openly questioned Rose's commitment to the league and his teammates simply because his timeline for return didn't meet their expectations.
But this kind of pressure from fans is inevitable since perspectives are so skewed by the sheer number of modern athletes who suffer setbacks and return to excellence. There have always been stories of athletes who have returned to competition after battling cancer or any number of injuries, but it seems that never before have so many pushed their bodies so hard, so far at once. Tennis superstar Serena Williams' had an incredible bounce back after suffering a pulmonary embolism and once again grabbed the #1 women's player in the world ranking. Her sister Venus continued her career after being diagnosed with Sjorgen's Syndrome and together, they went on to win the 2012 Wimbledon Doubles Title.
Then there's Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson who returned to football from an ACL tear within 6 months. At 27 years old, there was no guarantee he'd return to anything approaching his previous form. But Peterson came roaring back and proceeded to almost break the single-season rushing record. And not only did the best running back in the NFL return to the top of the food chain after an ACL tear, so did the league's best cornerback in Darrelle Revis, who tore his ACL in 2012 and has resumed dominance in 2013 at the ripe age of 28.
The limits of the human body are being tested by the world's greatest and I worry that the increasing number of cases in which athletes defy the odds are ramping up expectations to ridiculous levels. The hype around rehabbing serious injuries has reached such a fever pitch that even the doctors who treat athletes are becoming celebrities in their own right. Over the summer time, the press covered Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) only slightly more than they covered his surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Andrews has become the talented set's surgeon du jour, racking up a client list that includes Michael Jordan and Brett Favre.
RG3's injury drew immediate comparisons to Peterson, as both he and the Skins organization assured ticket holders that the braided QB would be back for sure the first day of the season. I found that promise to be both irresponsible and curious. The human body can be a fickle thing and what would the Redskins do if RG3's body simply wasn't ready? Make him play anyway?
Unfortunately, RG3's return to Skins' lineup has been rocky. And predictably, he's been peppered with questions about whether he returned too soon and whether his play has regressed due to his injury or for some other reason. Like RG3, Rose is also dealing with a new set of questions about his abilities as he tries to get back to his previous form. It all makes me wish that us sports spectators were better at taking a wait and see approach rather than assuring ourselves a player will be fine or writing him off within a few months of coming back. All this couch-doctoring has become downright exhausting not to mention unfair to the competitors themselves. As Peterson stated when folks compared RG3's injury to his: "That's not fair. Everybody's body heals differently. That's something nobody is going to understand."