Jason Pierre-Paul Built to Persevere

Jason Pierre-Paul Built to Persevere

JPP has an uncanny ability to take blow after blow. Photo by NeONBRAND// CC0 1.0

SOUTH FLORIDA – If you’re familiar with Jason Pierre Paul, or JPP (as he is known around the league), this won’t come as news to you.

For those who are unfamiliar, though, you should know that Pierre-Paul—an elite NFL player whose parents emigrated from Haiti when he was a child—specializes in persistence and perseverance, overcoming tribulation both on the field and off.

Now, fractured vertebrae in his neck call Pierre-Paul’s NFL future—and his reaction to injury and adversity—into question once again.

My take: with a track record of returning from injuries somehow better than he was, he’ll be back on the field (once cleared by his physician) and he won’t miss a beat.

Pierre-Paul’s parents came to the US in 1983, six years before JPP’s birth in 1989. As a standout basketball player throughout his high school career, he seemed to have a future in the NBA within reach. However, fate wouldn’t have it that way. A series of injuries may have soured a budding star on the court, but they created the opportunity for JPP to become a behemoth defender on the football field.

The Field is Long and Made of Grass

Having never played a down of organized football, Pierre-Paul (currently 6’5” and 375lbs.) started playing during his junior year of high school, performing exceptionally well despite his history of injuries and his newness to the sport.

After high school, he went on to play football at the collegiate level, collecting numerous accolades in his first two years. After sharpening his performance on defense—and becoming more comfortable with the game— he transferred from Fort Scott Community College to the University of South Florida, where he soon garnered First-team All American and first-team All-Big East honors.

In 2010, after leaving prior to his senior year, he was drafted in the first round to the New York Giants (who went on to win a Super Bowl with JPP). After playing in New York for eight seasons, he landed in Tampa Bay, where he’s continued to dominate. That’s the backstory on the field.

The story away from the field and the weight room highlights a young adult whose adaptability and never-give-up perspective have helped him to succeed against incredible odds and severe physical setbacks.

Now, after a car accident in early May, JPP is faced with an injury that could alter the trajectory of his NFL future and that would discourage even the most dedicated professional athletes. Despite all that, Pierre-Paul is no underdog when it comes to fighting back.

If we examine JPP’s basketball acumen in high school, it’s not difficult to imagine the emotional pain he must have felt having sustained not only the physical injuries but also a tsunami of fear, doubt, and uncertainty derived from his dwindling NBA prospects.

Many nights’ worth of NBA dreams would now become only memory. As far as a football career went, he was certainly a late starter, and a professional future was far from a guarantee.

This turning point is one at which Pierre-Paul’s active decision-making and unwavering competitive drive took over.

At this point, it would have been very easy (and understandable) for JPP to set aside high hopes of a professional future. It would have been understandable to feel awash by a sudden wave of concerns about himself and his identity. To give up.

Nonetheless, JPP rehabilitated his injured leg and continued to improve as a defensive force on the gridiron.

Into the NFL
Jason Pierre-Paul Built to Persevere

Photo by John Sullivan // CC0 1.0

From high school through the college ranks and picked up by the NY Giants in 2010, Pierre-Paul proved a natural talent at outside linebacker. Add to the talent and physical build a player hungry to learn and to establish his place among the NFL ranks, and it became clear that the ceiling was quite high for JPP. In his first season, he played in 16 games, totaled 30 tackles, racked up 4.5 sacks, forced two fumbles, and recovered two fumbles. In his second season, with a year’s experience and study, he piled up 86 total tackles and 16.5 sacks in 16 games, and he was recognized as a Pro Bowler and an All-American. These seasons set the bar for what we’ve come to expect from JPP, and the seasons since have so far delivered.

That’s why in 2015 fans were devastated to hear about JPP’s Independence Day fireworks accident—and about the subsequent amputation of his right index finger. For an individual whose career relies upon the ability to accurately and aggressively grab another person and force them to the ground, losing an index finger isn’t great news. Some assumed that Pierre-Paul’s career was over, blown to the wind by a malfunctioning firework display on a July 4th evening. Perhaps he had the same thought. After all, such a disadvantage can quickly render a “great” player “average”—and among other elite players, “average” means “not good enough.” Even the best competitors sometimes question their ability, and surely JPP had a lot of questions between his ears after that July 4th night.

After the Fireworks

Even as speculation about his return dominated the football world, Pierre-Paul underwent intensive rehabilitation and eventually returned for the 2015 season, appearing in 8 games and accumulating 26 tackles.

In 2016, he showed dramatic improvement. And for the last two seasons, JPP has been back at peak performance averaging 63 tackles and over 20 sacks per season (with 12.5 sacks in 2018).

With a promising first season in Tampa Bay, who find themselves at the bottom of the pecking order in the NFC South, the Bucs certainly hoped for more of the same. Unfortunately, Pierre-Paul was involved in a car accident in early May and suffered fractured vertebrae in his neck. With some sources forecasting that he could miss the entire 2018 season, other sources report that he will miss at least six weeks of the season. In either case, there’s not much doubt about what JPP will be doing in the meantime. Though this injury is different from his others—and is certainly concerning—it’s not Pierre-Paul’s first rodeo with adversity.

Given his reaction to previous injuries, we should assume that JPP will not be shaken by a negative prognosis, that he will no doubt be relentless in his rehabilitation, and that he will be driven by the same determination that has led him through tribulations past. And I’m sure that it wasn’t without deep forethought and some expert advice that JPP has chosen to forego surgery to repair his neck.

What alternative treatment regimen he has in mind, we’ll soon see, but it won’t involve post-surgery therapy if Pierre-Paul has his way. Whether he returns six weeks into the season or significantly later, JPP’s history indicates that he will be back and ready—once again—to quieten the doubters.


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