Missouri quarterback James Franklin didn't play on Saturday against Arizona State because of a shoulder injury, but the story has many more layers than that.
After the game, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had an interesting way of describing what happened. From the Kansas City Star:
"It was just too painful for him, and he didn't want to play," Pinkel said. "(I) was hoping James could play, but he didn't feel like he could do it."
Saying "he didn't want to play," is not only an unfair characterization, it was a pretty unsubtle way for Pinkel to call out his starting quarterback's toughness. Pinkel backtracked on Monday and said Franklin was "one of the toughest athletes I've ever been around," the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
Franklin, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason, re-injured his shoulder against Georgia on Sept. 8. He apparently could have taken a cortisone shot to help the inflammation and pain, which might have allowed him to play, but reports say he declined. His father Willie told Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his son has never taken any pain medication, not even aspirin. The family doesn't believe in taking drugs to deal with pain.
What Willie Franklin also told the Post-Dispatch raises the issue of football's sometimes archaic culture, and doing whatever it takes to play through injury:
"Guys are medicating themselves and running into 300-pound people, and now your body is numb to it, and then after your career is over it comes back at you and you can't even spend time with your families because your body's breaking down," said Willie Franklin. "So one of the things we want to do in our family is look after ourselves, stay healthy. It's self-preservation. There is life after sports. One day you want to have a family and enjoy your kids so you look after yourself. You take care of yourself. So any decision he makes, I support him 100 percent."
On Monday, Franklin said he didn't think Pinkel meant anything by his comments and he explained his painkiller decision to the Columbia Daily Tribune:
"I definitely wanted to play and be out there but at the same time I didn't want to do anything I wasn't comfortable with," Franklin told the newspaper. "But I felt like I was maybe letting them down a little bit because we only get a certain amount of chances a year, 12 or 13. … I didn't want to put that to waste by not being able to perform. I felt a little more torn about it because I didn't want to let my teammates down and disappoint the coaches. But in the end I was just trying to make a decision I was most comfortable with."
No matter the pressure to gut out injuries and play through pain, Willie Franklin's logic about his son's future is tough to argue with. Just don't expect it to spread through many locker rooms in the near future.
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