Pain-tolerance talk needs to stop

Pain is football. Football is pain. The two go hand in hand. They always have and always will. It is a big part of the game's allure, the fact that these men not only attempt to inflict pain on each other but do so while often enduring tremendous pain themselves.

That's why NFL players are called modern-day gladiators. They often play through the type of injuries that would keep most people away from their desk jobs for a few weeks. But they do so with little fanfare because, well, that is what they are expected to do.

But at what point do those expectations become unfair? I'd say right about the time other people start commenting on your personal pain tolerance, especially as it relates to your ability to perform in a game. It is happening more frequently, and I don't like it.

Consider Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his comments this past week when asked about the availability of quarterback Tony Romo.
"I understand the nature of the injury as much as you can without being in medicine. We'll just have to see how it goes. It has everything to do with just his ability to handle the pain, and we know he has a bunch of it."

Easy for you to say, Jerry.

Romo suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung the week before against the Niners, so to say his ability to play is based solely on his pain tolerance seems like a stretch. But even if that is in fact the case, why say it?

Perhaps Jones is just being honest and that is what he was told by the team doctors. I can understand that, but it still puts the player in a very precarious position. If a player can play so long as he can handle the pain, what does that say about him if he doesn't?

It sends a horrible message to the media and fans if a player like Romo chooses at that point not to play. I can imagine Cowboys fans and pundits saying Romo was "soft" if he hadn't elected to play with a Kevlar pad protecting his ribs Monday night against the Redskins. At a minimum, it puts tremendous unnecessary pressure on players at a time when player safety is supposed to be at a premium.

It's not just the Cowboys and Jerry Jones. It is an epidemic. It had already been reported shortly after the Jets game Sunday by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that the recovery of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who suffered bruised ribs and lungs Sunday against the Raiders, is "all about pain tolerance at this point." Mehta didn't come up with that himself. Somebody from the Jets told him that, and I think it is patently unfair.

Like pretty much every other NFL player, I played through pain at times, including a herniated disc in my back that required surgery after the 2004 season. Although I wouldn't exactly say I did it happily, I did it willingly because I could and I believed it was worth it. But I sure as heck wouldn't have wanted my coach or anyone else from my organization to say that I could play so long as I could handle the pain. I had pain that at times was excruciating, and if I had chosen not to play because I didn't want to do further damage to my back, that should have been my choice.

I didn't need somebody saying publicly that I was capable of playing as long as I could deal with the pain, just as Romo and Cromartie shouldn't face that pressure.

It has to stop and it has to stop now, before some player plays after a team says that and does in fact suffer further injury.

From the inbox

Q. There seems to be a big emphasis on how many yards a defense allows. But with offenses putting up much bigger yardage totals these days, especially with these no huddle offenses, are yards becoming less of a concern to defensive coordinators than creating turnovers and keeping the offense out of the end zone? Ultimately you want to win the game, and yards don't necessarily equate to scores. So why the emphasis on yardage totals if defenses are keeping offenses out of the end zone and winning the game?

Mark from Greensboro, N.C.

A. Total yardage is and always has been a silly way to rank offensive and defensive units. I'm on record as saying that in today's NFL, total passing yards has to be the most overrated stat out there. It seems like most of the highest passing totals each week are by quarterbacks who did so in a losing effort and racked up a lot of those yards in the fourth quarter. What matters ultimately is points. For instance, the Saints' ability to hold the Texans to field goals instead of touchdowns and get the timely Jabari Greer interception in the fourth quarter was ultimately the difference in that game.

Q. While I don't like the concept of flopping in the NFL (and I am a Giants fan), is that really different than spiking the ball? Think about it. The QB takes the snap and throws at the center's feet. If it weren't permitted by the rulebook, you would call it intentional grounding. What do you think?

Dave from Brookfield, Conn.

A. You answered your own question. The rules allow the quarterback to spike the ball, and they don't allow defenders to fake an injury. At least when a quarterback spikes the ball it is plainly obvious what he is doing. Faking an injury is disingenuous at best and in fact reeks of cowardice.

Q. What is the deal with the constant under-ranking of Rams running back Steven Jackson? A lot of people fail to mention him with Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster. He has had a consistent career and put up very comparable numbers with a very bad team. Am I the only one who thinks he is underrated?

Brad from Norfolk, Va.

A. You are, as they say, preaching to the choir about the guy known as SJax. He has more total yards than any other running back since 2006 and was second among all backs in 2010 in touches. For most of his tenure, he's been basically a lone soldier in St. Louis facing eight- and nine-man fronts designed entirely to stop him. His injury in Week 1 against the Eagles is a major reason the Rams are 0-3 at this point.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.