I watched countless hours of SportsCenter, I read endless issues of Sports Illustrated and I neglected the FM option on my radio to endure the musings of Colin Cowherd and Mike Greenburg on ESPN 1050.
Yet despite all the preparation and anticipation leading up to my columnist debut, I still lacked inspiration –– leading me to wonder: has the world of sports become so polluted by ego and so disillusioned by greed that it is now incapable of inspiring one of its most avid supporters?
The mere proposition that the world I love and immerse myself in for countless hours every day could have taken such a sharp turn for the worse has caused me to take a speculative (and some may say cynical) approach in writing this column.
So, in light of President Obama’s address to the nation on Tuesday night, I would like to present my own State of the Union: Sports Edition –– you can consider it an inaugural address for No Holds Barred.
Lebron James. Brett Favre. Alex Rodriguez. Tiger Woods.
What do these four men all have in common (besides being professional athletes)? The answer: they all have egos larger than the games they play.
Now what else do they have in common? They are all the best at what they do.
It is easy to say that all great athletes develop big egos, but one must also consider the possibility that big egos help to create great athletes. An endless desire for self-promotion, self-confidence and self-fulfillment is the driving force behind the success of the sports gods of yesterday and today, and a lack thereof can drive even the most promising athlete to failure.
If you show me an athlete that disproves this claim, I will shut my laptop right now and finish a one-hit wonder (or bust) in the extensive list of sports columnists to ever grace The Sun with their presence. But you won’t find one, because all athletes are –– in some respect –– their own biggest fans.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. In their truest form, professional sports are sources of entertainment and athletes are the entertainers. Athletes can delight or infuriate us and motivate or discourage us, yet if one ever lacked confidence in himself or herself, none of this would be possible. For this reason, I commend Chad Ochocinco for his unpredictable end zone celebrations, Bob Knight for his chair-throwing antics and Manny for well ... just being Manny. If it weren’t for these athletes, there wouldn’t be a column worth writing.
But while I wholeheartedly support the wide spectrum of egos in the world of sports today, I also understand that there is a point when one’s ego transcends his athletic ability and becomes a liability to himself, his teammates and those closest to him.
Take the four men mentioned above, for example.
Lebron James, dubbed “The King” by the age of 19, had it all entering the 2010 NBA Playoffs with the No. 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers. But after a second-round collapse, a drawn-out free agency spectacle capped off by the worst hour of TV ESPN has ever aired and a heated back-and-forth exchange between the superstar and his former employer, it appears that The King’s ego has forced him from realizing his destiny as the next Michael Jordan.
The examples continue: Brett Favre’s repeated inability to decide to retire or play another year began as a hotly debated sports topic and has since turned into a reoccurring joke that may forever overshadow his Hall of Fame career. Alex Rodriguez made the mistake of using performance-enhancing drugs, yet that was not his fatal flaw. A standoffish attitude and bizarre acts of unsportsmanlike conduct (ask Dallas Braden) were the main reasons why A-Rod’s 600th home run was more of a relief than a celebration of talent. And Tiger Woods ... well, enough said.
For our discussion on greed, first consider the case of New York Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. As the best player on the best defense in the NFL last season, Revis’ ego flew sky-high, leading the cornerback to demand a contract extension with the threat of holding out from training camp and, potentially, the regular season. Despite being offered a record 10-year, $122 million contract, Revis continues to holdout. The result has been a four-week debacle that may drastically impact the Jets’ Super Bowl aspirations in 2010-11.
Today’s prevalence of greed ranges far beyond individual players, however, expanding to entire sports leagues both at the professional and collegiate level.
Take the NFL for instance. In a year from now, it is highly probable that the single greatest sporting league on the planet will be a no-show for its own dance, as rumors of an impending lockout in 2011 continue to linger just two-weeks before opening day.
The issue at stake? Money. The players want more of it and the owners don’t want to spend it. But while players sit at home waiting for a new deal to be negotiated and owner’s sit in their offices still receiving television payments for games not even being aired, it will be the fans on the losing end of the stick.
Similar happenings are taking place in the NCAA, with far different implications. In pursuit of a more lucrative television contract, the University of Texas explored the possibility of leaving the Big 12 conference to join the Pac-10. Texas ultimately stayed in its original home, but only after agreeing to a new TV deal that will pay the university between $20 and $25 million a year. Say what you want about the enormity of the contract, but what should not be overlooked is the fact that Texas was willing to forgo timeless rivalries and ultimately dismantle the competitive landscape of the NCAA all in an effort for personal gain.
While the nature of this article has thus far portrayed athletes in a dim light, it is important to note that the individuals mentioned above are few and far between in the world of sports. There is a far greater amount of inspiring, well-respected professional athletes in the world today than there are egomaniacs, and it would irresponsible to write a column highlighting the latter without giving proper attention to the true superstars.
The man to top that list is Lance Armstrong. In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that would later spread throughout his body. Given a low probability of survival, Armstrong beat the cancer and went on to win a record seven straight Tour de France titles. While that story alone is enough to inspire any aspiring athlete, what Armstrong has done off the bike is more impressive. In 1997, Armstrong founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation, raising millions of dollars to help people suffering from cancer. Since then, Armstrong has teamed with numerous big-name athletes to establish Athletes for Hope, an organization aimed at helping stars give back to the community. Cal Ripkin Jr., Jeff Gordon and Muhammad Ali are just a few of the athletes that have joined Armstrong with this endeavor.
As I have reflected on the state of the sports world today, I have come to the realization that things are not as bad they seem. For every Tiger Woods, there are 50 Lance Armstrongs, and those are the athletes worth commemorating and cheering for in the future. The NFL may very well lockout and the NCAA may soon become the top-heavy conference that we all fear of, but what will not change are the things that make sports so great in the first place. It is sports’ abilities to entertain and inspire, to teach life skills and to build a sense of unity that keeps me optimistic as we embark on a new decade of athletic competition.