Confirming what had been rumored the day before, Missouri quarterback James Franklin did not take the field Saturday night against Arizona State because of lingering soreness in his shoulder. Franklin missed practically the entire offseason recovering from shoulder surgery and re-aggravated the injury in Week 2’s loss to Georgia.
According to Tigers coach Gary Pinkel, the decision to not take the field against the Sun Devils was Franklin’s choice, not one made by the coaches or training staff. Why? Because Franklin refused to take an injection with painkillers.
That’s not the part of the story generating buzz. Franklin, according to his father, has never taken any sort of medication. In fact, the Franklin family is a drug-free one. “He’s never even taken an aspirin once in his life,” Willie Franklin told the St. Louis Post-Disptach. “In our family, we don’t believe in taking medication (for pain) or trying to soften anything with any drugs.”
It’s how Pinkel phrased Franklin’s reasoning that gained the most attention.
“It was just too painful for him, and he didn’t want to play,” Pinkel said after a 24-20 win over ASU before clarifying later, “He said, ‘It hurts too much. I can’t play.’ “
So, Franklin didn’t want to play or couldn’t play?
That’s been the debate, the center of which included questioning Franklin’s toughness. But, here’s the thing: never mind what Pinkel’s intent was or how the comments were perceived. No one plays at this level — no one plays football in general — without being tough. If a player isn’t tough enough mentally or physically to survive the next level, they fizzle out quickly.
Franklin is a junior and has a full year under his belt as the starting quarterback for the Tigers. As a dual-threat, he ran 217 times in 13 games last season, an average of between 16 and 17 times a game. That’s toughness, and if he doesn’t believe in taking a cortisone injection, then that’s his prerogative because it’s his body. If he loses his starting job — Franklin is still listed as Mizzou’s starter — or gets labeled as “soft” because of it, then so be it. Franklin has priorities and playing without the assistance of painkillers, which can be addictive, is clearly important to him.
The traditional belief about toughness in football is that everyone plays hurt, and when a coach says a player is “100 percent”, he really means they’re about 80 to 90 percent with the help of a cortisone shot. Franklin’s going another route, but that shouldn’t translate into meaning he somehow is lacking toughness.