Almost every pro athlete has played through painful injuries. In fact, depending on the sport, some are constantly playing through painful injuries. Nevertheless, some instances of athletes playing through injuries are more notable than others, whether it’s because of the extent of the injury or the circumstances surrounding it. And today we’re going to take a look at some of these.
Be advised, however, that the following list is not intended to be comprehensive. There are way too many cases of athletes soldiering on through the pain to list every single one. However, the examples here are definitely notable and worthy of praise. So sit back and take a look. Then, if you feel so compelled, feel free to contribute your own nominations for athletes who deserve special recognition in the comments section.
In all likelihood, English soccer player Terry Butcher didn't have to play through all that much pain during a pivotal 1990 World Cup qualifier against Sweden. He did, however, have to play through an enormous loss of blood. Despite receiving a gash on the noggin that required stitches in the middle of the match, Terry played one, resulting in this gory mess.
20. Terry Butcher
Kirk Gibson was the NL MVP in 1988. Unfortunately, during the NLCS that year, he suffered injuries to both of his legs that were expected to keep him out of the World Series against the Oakland A's. However, with the Dodgers trailing by one run with one on and two outs in the bottom of the 9th, a hobbled Gibson came to the plate as a pinch hitter and turned a pitch from Dennis Eckersley into one of the most famous home runs in the history of baseball.
19. Kirk Gibson
Doctors tried to stabilize a torn tendon sheath in Curt Schillings' ankle with sutures prior to Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. The procedure worked. Schilling pitched through pain for seven strong innings, producing the now-legendary bloody sock.
18. Curt Schilling
During the 1970 World Cup semifinal against Italy, West German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer broke his clavicle—an extremely painful injury. However, they just put the guy's arm in a sling and he kept on playing. His team would eventually lose, but it certainly wasn't because of Beckenbauer's lack of effort.
17. Franz Beckenbauer
Everyone thought Rondo was done after he dislocated his elbow during Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. But just 7:01 later, there he was back on the floor, playing the position of point guard more or less one-handed.
That's how much the Celtics hate the Heat.
16. Rajon Rondo
Hall of Fame center Willis Reed tore a thigh muscle in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, so nobody expected him to play Game 7 for the Knicks. However, he ended up playing a solid 27 minutes of defense against some guy named Wilt Chamberlain to help New York win their first NBA title.
15. Willis Reed
Tiger Woods tried to clean up his knee with arthroscopic surgery two months before the 2008 U.S. Open, but as you can see from this photo, he was still pretty hobbled at times. Nevertheless, Tiger played through the pain to win the tournament, which he personally considers the greatest of his 14 major championships.
14. Tiger Woods
When you're talking about Brett Favre playing through painful injuries you have to be really specific, because one doesn't make 297 consecutive starts at quarterback in the NFL without being tough as nails. Two more notable examples from Favre's career would the be 2000 season, in which he played through elbow tendinitis, and the 2003 season, in which he played through a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
13. Brett Favre
Some may remember Byron Leftwich as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Others, however, will remember his gutsy performance playing for Marshall against Akron in 2002, when he broke his left tibia but returned to the game to lead his team to a 17-point comeback. The guy couldn't even walk down the field, but had to be carried by linemen Steve Sciullo and Steve Perretta.
12. Byron Leftwich
How bad was Stevey Y's knee in 2002? Bad enough that he missed 30 regular-season games and then had reconstructive knee surgery that knocked him out of the first 66 games of 2003. However, the injury wasn't bad enough to keep the Red Wings captain out of the playoffs, where he led the team to a Stanley Cup victory with a team-high 23 points.
11. Steve Yzerman
Chris Simms was brutalized by the Carolina Panthers defense during a September 2006 game, but he stayed in the game. Only later did he learn that, in taking those hits, he had ruptured his spleen.
10. Chris Simms
After injuring his leg, Maple Leafs' defenseman Bobby Baun had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher in the 3rd period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1964. However, he returned to the ice for overtime and, of course, scored the game-winner. Later, an x-ray revealed that he had broken his lower right leg.
9. Bobby Baun
Shun Fujimoto broke his kneecap during the men's team gymnastics competition at the 1976 Summer Olympics. However, he competed in the last three events anyway, helping his team with team all-around gold.
8. Shun Fujimoto
Hall of Fame cornerback/safety Ronnie Lott mangled his finger during the 49ers last game of the 1985 season, and of course he had the thing taped up so he could keep playing. Docs then gave him the choice of undergoing a number of procedures to fix the finger, which would have caused him to miss playoff games, or just amputate the tip of it and play right away.
As you can see, he chose the latter.
7. Ronnie Lott
Tittle never won a championship, but nobody questions his ability or toughness. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who played the entire 1964 season with a concussion and a cracked sternum, despite the fact that his team was awful.
6. Y.A. Tittle
You remember this one, right? At the 1996 Summer Olympics, the U.S. women's gymnastic team needed a vault of 9.5 or better from Kerri Strug to win their first ever team all-around gold medal. However, she sprained her ankle on her first attempt, and everyone thought the U.S. would fall short again. Then Strug did the impossible: she landed a 9.712 vault on one leg, winning gold for the USA.
5. Kerri Strug
Cowboys running back Walt Garrison? Oh, he just broke three ribs during the first quarter of a playoff game in 1970 and returned to the game to rush for over 100 yards. No bid deal.
4. Walt Garrison
During Game 4 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals in 2010, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith took a puck to the face that knocked out seventeeth. But, being a hockey player, he just went to the locker room, had medical staff remove the teeth fragments from his gums, and returned to the game.
3. Duncan Keith
Now this one is legendary. During a 1979 playoff game against the Cowboys, Rams DE Jack Youngblood broke his fibula on a nasty chop block, but returned to the game with a brace, recorded a sack on Roger Staubach, and played all the way through the Rams' Super Bowl loss to the Steelers.
2. Jack Youngblood
If you live in North America, you might be under the impression that all soccer players are soft like Cristiano Ronaldo. However, that's only because you've probably never heard of Bert Trautmann. In 1956, this Manchester City goalie broke his neck with 15 minutes to go in the FA Cup final, but remained in the game and made two more saves to preserve his team's 3-1 victory.
Let me repeat: soccer player broke neck, stayed in game.
Now that is tough.