Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the European Championship Final match this afternoon after suffering a knee injury in the 8th minute.

For the last few hours he’s been called a baby, a selfish whiner, and a quitter who only cares about protecting himself.

Let me tell you what I saw today.

I saw a man who was doing what he loves most who’s older and knows he won’t be doing it much longer. I saw a man who got injured on a clean challenge with accidental knee contact and went down in pain, not drama, and didn’t look around for a foul because he was legitimately concerned. No whining, no antics, just worry. He knew the stakes: representing his country in the European Championship, and being the all-important scoring threat for his team mates.

He tried gamely to wait it out, but he did little more than walk around for the next 10 minutes or so. Because he couldn’t. The look on his face says it all. He was desperate for it to feel better and the fact that he waited as long as he did to admit needing help says everything. His eyes give away the story. Not the eyes of someone saying look at me. They were the eyes of someone showing genuine fear of having to leave the match. To unwillingly abdondon his peers and his nation.

But there comes a point when you know you’re doing nothing to help. It took a lot of guts to concede that the best thing he could do for his team is to allow a healthy substitute to take his place and contribute. That’s exactly what he thought he was doing. That’s what the tears were for. That was genuine powerful emotion. He left the game with a broken heart.

The training staff refused to give up on him. They wrapped his knee and gave it one more go. Knowing he was only going to help if he could actually play, he stepped on in the 20th minute and forced himself to run. He sprinted. He twisted. He did everything he knew he would have to do for the next 70 minutes in order to serve a purpose. It took less than three minutes for him to realize it was futile.

If he was faking, he deserves an Oscar. If it was for self-preservation, he wouldn’t have risked the 20th-24th minutes of actual playing.

Video: CR7HD

He took a real knock on his knee. He was standing pretty upright when it happened, in a vulnerable position. His foot was forced to the ground and got planted while the pressure of the contact kept his knee going unnaturally sideways. Keep in mind we’re talking about one of the fittest people on the planet. His legs are finely tuned muscle machines. Yet he couldn’t trust his leg after that.

For those comparing this to other sports, such as the go-to example of Gregory Campbell of the Boston Bruins who finished a penalty kill on a broken leg, I admire that courage as well. I think hockey players are awesome. But would you have thought Campbell was a selfless hero had he taken a regular shift on one leg for the rest of the game or would you have called him a selfish glory hog?

If you want to make assumptions on the severity of the injury and call him names, well, I have no proof of whether the injury was that bad. But anyone who questions the desire of Ronaldo to stay in that match doesn’t deserve to watch soccer anyway.

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