There has been spirited discussion this week on talk radio and the Internet with fans questioning the courage of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers if they do not play this weekend. Dallas plays the Philadelphia Eagles, and Green Bay plays the Chicago Bears in the final game of the season. The winner of each game advances to the playoffs. The losers are out and immediately start their offseason. This is exactly the drama that the NFL hopes for in the end-of-season playoff races.
Romo and Rodgers are among the most competitive human beings on the planet. Sitting on a sideline while their team's hopes are on the line is a special form of torture for each of them. Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and along with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, is considered among the absolute elite at the position. Romo is a very talented player.
Their whole lives have been centered around the goal of taking a team to the Super Bowl. They train all off-season, training camp and every week in hopes of achieving their dream.
The issue with NFL players has never been their willingness to play. Since Pop Warner they have been inculcated with the belief that long-term health is an abstraction and the current play is everything. They abhor getting injured and will play without regard to jeopardizing their future. I have had players willingly perform with a broken rib, a collapsed lung and a broken leg. They fear being considered a "training room player" and losing their position. They feel depressed and excluded from team camaraderie when unable to play.
Tony Romo had a herniated disc in his back Week 16. There are rumors he was willing to have the same spinal pain bloc that women get in childbirth to be able to play. This risks much more injury. The body sends out pain as a signal that a person should not be using that body part. Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone Week 9. These players might end up permanently injuring themselves if they play in a way that will impact many seasons to come. Retired players live with extraordinary levels of pain and lack of mobility from these injuries.
I invite anyone questioning the courage of an NFL quarterback to try a simple test. Walk out on a practice field with every protection and be tackled in a "sack." The G force that bigger, stronger, faster players can produce would result in a non-player unable to get out of bed for days.
The fact that players are paid prodigious sums for playing does not justify risking being crippled for life. I am sure that both these players are doing everything they can to convince the coaches and medical staffs that they can play. It is incumbent on more rational executives to make the call.
I remember talking to Dan Rooney, Steeler owner, after an injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about my fears he would be rushed into play too soon. Dan replied, "Don't concern yourself. I look at all these issues long term. We need Ben for years to come and will never make a decision like that based on winning or losing a game or a season." That is why Dan Rooney has a franchise that has been a winner forever.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.