For every great champion who plays while injured or sick, there should be a disclaimer: "Professional athletes only. School kids and any other nonprofessional should follow doctors order's: stay home and get better."
Playing through an injury is often touted as just another level of skill and toughness displayed by a champion athlete. Any basketball fan alive in 1997 will remember Michael Jordan's epic performance in Game 5 of the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz. Sick with the stomach flu, one moment he could hardly move, and the next he was on the floor scoring 38 points in 44 minutes and clinching a 3-pointer to lead the Bulls past the Jazz.
Fast-forward to Tiger Woods' 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines. Advised by doctors that he had two stress fractures and should be on crutches, he instead competed, winning after a 19-hole playoff. Eight days later, he had major knee surgery.
Virtually every great champion will have his or her own story of competing and winning while not healthy. Pushing the body beyond the limits normally defined by physiology happens every day in the life of a champion. Champions play at only one speed and with one goal: the speed is full throttle, and the goal is victory. Sickness or health, these goals do not change.
The flip side is that a champion would never compete if he or she knew that victory was not possible. Taking one for the team in order to perform at a mediocre level, with no chance for victory, is not part of a champion's approach to sport.
As for those athletes who are not at the champion level (and that's virtually everyone, whether on a team or as an individual), competing while extremely sick or injured is not the right decision. Take it from the playbook of a champion: why would you ever compete if you or your team did not have an absolute chance and ability to win? Furthermore, what is the risk-to-reward ratio when considering the rest of your career?
In the rarified world of the champion, the decision to play or not play has its own set of rules and parameters. A champion's reasons for playing or not playing should not apply to everyone, and certainly not if you are anything but a professional who is getting paid to go to practice every day.
With rare exceptions, playing at any level other than full capacity brings on the potential for additional injury, not to mention a subpar performance. For the mortals of sport, show your strength and mental fortitude by missing the game, recovering, and returning to your sport at full capacity - when your body is ready .