Hayes: Why we fans care so much about athletes’ injuries


Bob Hayes, Opinion Editor

Throughout my young life, I have generally failed to grasp the widely cited Kubler-Ross model of coping with grief, which I can mostly attribute to the fortunate fact that I have never had to deal with an overwhelming loss in my life.

My profound passion for sports places me as a firm adherent to sports as a microcosm for life, and I have perhaps never felt that so much as I have this week, when news broke that former NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose — star point guard of my and his hometown Chicago Bulls — is set to receive his third knee surgery, bringing a sudden end to the Bulls’ title hopes for the fourth consecutive year. My Twitter feed abruptly thrust me — along with much of Chicago, NBA fans around the world and anyone with sympathy — into my own Kubler-Ross journey.

The realization initially felt like a frivolous dream that I would joke about with my friends the next day — it seems so typical that Rose tore his meniscus yet so preposterous that it could happen again. Maybe it was a horrible social media joke, I thought. But once trusted Chicago Tribune reporter K.C. Johnson confirmed the news, anger set in: How could this happen again to Rose? To us? Why did we even bother to stand by him? I searched for a reason that could explain Rose’s walking into practice with a sore knee before walking out with an appointment for another surgery. I then moved on to bargaining: Maybe he will be back for the playoffs. Maybe the Bulls are even better without him. Hey, Aaron Brooks has been pretty good, right?

But now I have come to the realization that on both micro and macro levels, this is horrible news. Even if the Bulls want to move on from Rose, his injury history and cap hit of more than $20 million each of the next two seasons mean the Bulls would find it difficult to receive any worthy assets in a deal for him. We can argue for days about how Rose has affected this year’s team both positively and negatively, but in reality, everyone knows Rose lifts the excitement level and ceiling of the Bulls like no one else can.

The bigger issue is the collective deflation of Rose’s hometown city. After Rose tore his ACL in the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, we still could not go a day without seeing Rose on a billboard, reading a newspaper article about him or checking out his latest Adidas release. He was everywhere, and we couldn’t wait for “the return.” A month into his comeback season, Rose tore the meniscus in his other knee, prompting another year of the same teasing, yet hopeful cycle. Now, as round three has come upon us, Rose’s knee issues prove to be more than just a startling trend of bad luck, and the memories of plays like his dunk on Joel Anthony in the Eastern Conference Finals fall yet deeper into our collective consciousness.

In the six seasons since the Bulls improbably snagged the first overall draft pick and selected the Simeon Career Academy graduate, Rose, more than any Chicago athlete, is the face of this city. And as he goes under the knife again with his career in jeopardy, it just now feels like we may need to change that to past tense.

As I — along with many, many others — remain entrenched in the relatively trivial stage of depression, I sit next to my Rose poster and t-shirt wondering why it all matters so much. After Brazilian soccer star Neymar broke a vertebrae during the World Cup, I scoffed at how the entire nation acted like he had died, and I do not at all mean to act like Rose has. I dread the idea of watching a fourth consecutive NBA Playoffs knowing it does not matter for the Bulls, which pushes me into the existential consideration of why any of it matters. I find this meaning by returning to the sports-as-life metaphor.

Viewing athletes as flawless role models is a key portion of personal development as we grow up. We spend countless hours in the gym, watching games and daydreaming about how desperately badly we want to fly through the air in front of thousands of our hometown fans. Stars like Rose exist as gods in our minds because of their physical gifts, and when these are unfairly swiped away, the seemingly eternal flames of our built-up legends suddenly extinguish and are replaced by a crippling reminder of how quickly dreams can be taken away.

Devastating injuries affect fans so greatly because they show us that no matter how high we dream, we must play every game as if it is our last, both in our sports lives and in our much broader lives. Laugh at me and call it trite, but we never successfully process this notion until it is too late and we sit helplessly empty-handed.

Rose, even on the one day for us to celebrate him as an individual, said in his MVP speech, “We’re just trying to win the next game.” Tuesday afternoon, Rose walked into practice ready to prepare for the title quest’s next game. Today, for Rose, there is no next game.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].