March 1, 2012

MUSINGS: The Character of an Athlete

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Athletes have always been confident of themselves. You need to be sure of your abilities in sports or else you will make mistakes and get beaten. However, just because you are confident in your abilities does not mean that you have to be cocky and loud about it.

For example, the last generation of wide receivers had a ton of talent but was extremely vocal and caused a lot of trouble. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco (the last name is another example of the bravado and unnecessary cockiness they showed) were extremely successful for a long period of time. They made unnecessary celebrations, (Randy Moss pretending to moon the crowd) destroyed teams (Terrell Owens with regards to the Eagles and the detrimental relationship with Donovan Mcnabb) and were just relatively loud and obnoxious. Now, Moss is looking for a team to play for, Owens plays for an arena football team that he partially owns (he is playing it because he needs the income, even after making a ton while playing in the NFL) and Ochocinco, after posting career lows in many categories, needs to restructure his contract with the Patriots because of his lack of playmaking ability anymore. I feel no sympathy for these players. I feel like they are/did waste their talents and could have been even better if they had learned to play on a team, not just for themselves.

The rising group of elite wide receivers — Andre and Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Larry Fitzgerald, AJ Green — all provide solid performances on the field and quiet performances off of it. I like that, a lot. You don’t need to scream the loudest to be noticed; you can do it with your game play. That is why when I look to the combine and see people like Andrew Luck and RG3 it makes me happy to see people with true character. It isn’t a façade; these kids have been in the national spotlight and are articulate, candid and are almost definitely going to be the face of the franchise. I have no doubt that they will do it with poise and grace. Many people have failed in the past because of character issues (Ryan Leaf couldn’t handle the pressure, Jamarcus Russell had no motivation, Brian Bosworth, Tony Mandarich and the list goes on and on) and many will in the future, but I want to see more from athletes.

I want to see more of Pat Tillman, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg and multiple others who put their country above themselves and could (and should) be considered of the highest character. I want someone who was as humble as Lou Gehrig with his luckiest man in the world speech. To be dying of a debilitating disease that took the life out from under you (including the game in which you had set the record for the most games played consecutively) and to not say “why me?”, but to instead thank everyone for the opportunity, is utterly amazing. To me, being a world-class athlete is a gift. And I value those people who recognize how lucky they are to have it and make every second count. I feel no sympathy for these athletes who go out of control because there are many of them who wouldn’t. I know that some come from very terrible situations and I am truly sorry they had to endure that, no one should.

But Dwayne Wade came from an absolutely terrible situation and is not only one of the best players in basketball but also one of the nicest and most caring. This does not mean that athletes should be role models (Charles Barkley made a great speech as to why he shouldn’t be your kids role model) because not many people will reach the professional level of sports and unless you do you should not look to them for advice. However, because they are always in the spotlight of the media, what they say and do will always play out in front of the fans. I don’t know about you but I will always 100% want to hear what the players accomplished on the field rather than off of it.

Original Author: Zach Gayner