Injured Players: Are you the 12th Man or just a Fair Weather Fan?
Issue   |   Tue, 02/17/2015 - 22:36

In the early months of the first semester, I wrote an article about drawing the line between tough and soft in the midst of an injury. I concluded that there is no universal equation to determine whether or not someone is acting valorously or foolishly when playing through an injury, and only the injured individual possesses the ability to dictate whether or not he or she should participate in an athletic contest. While this idea is clouded when transcending different levels of competition — NHL fighters are expected to battle through injuries, or are at risk of losing a roster spot — as Amherst student athletes, it is our duty to support our teammates and believe they are acting appropriately when choosing to sit out due to injury.

The idea for the article was sparked by personal circumstance, as it was found that I would need to receive bi-monthly cortisone shots in my hips in order to push through the pain of a torn labrum and participate in the hockey season. The choice was only mine to make, but unfortunately my decision caught the best of me, and my season was cut short after a fluke play late in the third period against Connecticut College. While watching my brothers battle on the ice is surely difficult, I stand by the decision I made; however, while sitting in the stands in a suit and tie these past few weeks, I was struck by the level of dedication necessary as a non-competing member of a team. Whether a teammate is injured or a healthy scratch from the lineup, the role he or she plays is crucial to the overall success of the club.

As a proud fan of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, I found myself religiously tuning into ESPN during the days leading up to the big dance. Hidden underneath the deflategate scandal and conversations of Tom Brady potentially catapulting into the throne as the Greatest of all time, sat an interesting analysis of the Seattle Seahawks and their “12th man.” For those unfamiliar with the term, the “12th man” refers to the Seahawk fan base, their earthquake categorized cheers, and the impact they have on the team’s success. The “12th man” obviously doesn’t play, but can be considered one of the most important assets of the game.

While the NESCAC isn’t known for its record-shattering attendance and rowdy fans (although we do greatly appreciate the large number of students who do attend our games) I found the “12th man” theory to pertain to a different facet of athletic life here on campus. Unfortunately, a large number of Amherst student athletes are forced to sit out games, either for injury or depth chart reasons.

And while it becomes easy to dismiss these teammates, their role on the team should be embraced and their opinions sought after. Furthermore, as a player unable to compete — for whatever reason — understand that you now possess unique leadership capabilities, and can contribute in any way possible, no matter how insignificant the task or idea may appear. Non-dressing student athletes provide teams with important and influential viewpoints, and have the ability to make a difference and be the “12th man.”

The first week after my season-ending injury, I tuned out completely. Going from starting goaltender to the kid sitting in the training room while the team practices is a tough pill to swallow, and I crept into a realm of complacency. Watching the team play in games produced an awkward flurry of jealousy, bliss, anger and elation. I wanted the team to win with such an undying passion, but to be honest, not without me on the ice — I was constantly frustrated. My role on the club appeared insignificant and my disheartened emotions radiated throughout the locker room.

However, after my first week as a non-dressing player, my idea of the role I played on the team was altered; with my injury came a new perspective and level of obtainable leadership. I was hit with a barrage of questions from the coaching staff and teammates about my viewpoints on certain situations. While in the stands, I could see the game in a way the coaches could not. Being in the locker room, I could better understand the feelings of teammates and get a sense of the overall level of intensity among the boys. I became something of an undercover coach.

If you’re not dressing, understand that you are more than a messenger boy, filling water bottles and carrying team gear. If you are dressing, the same goes for you — don’t dismiss the leadership role of a teammate who is unable to participate in a game.

As the “12th man,” non-dressing athletes possess a certain level of confidence and swagger. You work just as hard — if not harder — than every individual in your respective locker room. Your opinion matters. Dedicating the same amount of time and hard work, but not benefiting by individual performance, is true devotion. If someone is taking their role for granted and slacking off let them know because it’s a direct insult to you and work you put in. If a teammate’s faced is painted with a look of discontent, approach them and build them up. When the room is silent after a tough second period, make your presence known and provide the team with your two cents.

You have earned the right to participate, and your words hold significant weight.

If you choose to keep your thoughts to yourself and separate yourself from the team emotionally, you run the risk of losing relevance. You’re no longer the “12th man” but more or less a “fair weather fan,” and as we all know, respect is minimal for someone in that role.

This is not to say a non-dressing athlete should spew garbage from his mouth every day, just because he thinks he has to say something — make it meaningful, and if your words aren’t meaningful, wait until they are. The “rah-rah” talk holds no weight if your regular work ethic doesn’t resemble your words, if it doesn’t sound genuine, or if you sound like a broken record, just talking to talk.

Athletes have been taught at Amherst LEADS to be ourselves, and lead the way we know how. You don’t need to be someone you are not in order to act as a leader — change what’s cool.

Ultimately, non-dressing athletes play extremely important roles on their teams. You know your teammates better than your coaches and have the ability to positively utilize that point of view. It is important to find a happy medium between complacency and over-zealousness en route to becoming a successful team leader. Non-dressing athletes, while you may not be able to play as much as others, embrace your role as a hardworking, important team piece and be heard. It’s in your hands to decide who you want to be. Do what it takes to be the “12th man,” not a “fair weather fan.”