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Jose Fernandez injury: Hiding pain and the dangerous "macho" culture

Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez admitted to hiding arm pain prior to his season-ending UCL injury, and that he did so to avoid letting his teammates down. This was a poor decision that jeopardized both sides.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Jose Fernandez spoke with members of the media for the first time since his season-ending Tommy John surgery on last Friday. He spoke with media covering the Miami Marlins and finally discussed what many had in mind since his attorney, Ralph Fernandez, initially talked about a thigh injury suffered in the Los Angeles Dodgers game potentially causing a damage-dealing change in mechanics. Fernandez corroborates one part of his attorney's story: he did feel pain after the Dodgers game, but hid the pain from the team in order to help the club. From Fernandez in the Sun-Sentinel article.

"I felt a little sore in the fifth or sixth inning [of the Dodgers' game]. I felt a little pinch. I don't remember what pitch. Nothing I hadn't felt before. Pitchers feel that all the time when they throw hard stuff. I went through my bullpen and everything was fine.

"I think it was really sad. I went to pitch in San Diego knowing I wasn't 100 percent. But I still did it. To me in my mind I said 'I can't do this to my team.' We're still in first place. I'm 100 percent out for my team. I can't let them down right now.''

Fernandez said he regretted nothing regarding not discussing the injury because he was trying to play for his teammates.

"I don't regret not saying anything,'' said Fernandez, "I think that was my call. It probably wasn't the smartest thing, but this is my team and I give my life to my team.

These appear to be the words of a person who genuinely enjoys playing for the Marlins and truly did not want to let his teammates down. For that purpose, he was willing to potentially sell out his health to leave it all on the line for his team until there was no choice. For some, that represents a brand of loyalty and camaraderie that is rare in sports now and it shows that Fernandez is a fantastic teammate.

But I see things from a different perspective as an aspiring doctor. I see this as a player who feared letting teammates down if he told them he was ailing. Fernandez's description of the pain is not quite the usual for a big-league pitcher, especially since he thought it necessary to make mention that he was aware of a "pinch" sensation in the Dodgers start. And pain, no matter who you are, is still a symptom and not normal. No person should expect pain as something normal, even after an activity as rigorous as throwing a baseball. Fernandez should know that injury could happen at any time and should have warned someone that he "was not 100 percent," as he puts it.

The "teammates" part is what is most fearful in these cases. The fact that players are either blindly loyal to their teammates, even over the sake of their health, or that they fear their teammates may resent them for missing time for something deemed "minor," is a risk to player safety. This "macho" mentality that athletes often take on is risky to health and ultimately can jeopardize the player, his team and its investments, and the very teammates he is considering.

In all situations, players (and people in general) should consider themselves first, especially in something medical in nature. Fernandez wanted to play for his team and teammates. But the Marlins are a business organization that would sooner cut ties with Fernandez if anything disastrous ever happened to his health. His teammates receive paychecks and continue with their livelihoods with or without Fernandez. The only person looking out for a player's health is himself (and to a lesser extent family, friends, and agents). Playing for the team and teammates is admirable, but those parties have less at stake than the player when it comes to that player's health.

Fernandez should have thought of his situation first and foremost. Doing so may have prevented a disastrous injury that likely occurred in the San Diego game. There is no guarantee that the Marlins would have avoided surgical-level damage had they spotted Fernandez rest or even shelved him for a short time with "elbow discomfort." Based on what we have seen, it is unlikely that Fernandez's injury could have been prevented. He may have been one of the unfortunately gifted hurlers who can throw a baseball so hard and with such ease that they eventually develop arm trouble. He may have been unlucky, and his injury may have been caused by gradual wear and tear over years of throwing motions instead of a truly acute change in mechanics or otherwise. Fernandez's injury could have been inevitable.

But that does not change the fact that the party with the most to lose and the one risking everything is Fernandez. Players should take heed that trying to be "macho" and bear unnatural pain for the sake of teammates and their opinions is unsafe.

Once upon a time, Hanley Ramirez ran into the same problem, having played and survived through multiple seasons without missing significant time. When he did miss time, teammates resented his complaints and questioned his work ethic. Ramirez chose eventually to take care of himself, and after some injury-riddled years, he has gotten himself back on track.

Fernandez says he regrets nothing, but he should learn from this mistake. Ultimately, he is responsible for his own health, and toughing it out for his teammates can hurt them and, most importantly, his future. With so much money in arbitration and future contracts at stake, Fernandez and other players cannot afford to not be their own advocates and watchdogs for their health. Pain is not normal, and unnatural pain should be evaluated by a physician. Players should not suffer and be victims of their own hard-headedness or fear of resentment. Clubhouses and other players should be understanding of injury concerns and willing to help a fallen teammate rather than judge them for questionable concerns. The sooner this sort of thought disappears from sports, the better.