Last week, in a fit of pre-teen high school nostalgia, my “manly” college brethren and I decided to describe the perfect girl—you know, the one who would cause us to forever disregard the (slightly sexist/inappropriate) adage, “Bros before h**s.”
While our choices varied drastically, ranging from “sophisticated” to “clean nails,” there were hardly any major objections, and, thankfully, no mentions of “extraordinary farting ability” or “smooth leg hair.”
I was thrilled at how much fun we were having (and feeling slightly too girly), so I decided to continue the roundtable discussion by describing the perfect athlete.
One by one, I spouted out those characteristics we all strive for.
“They’ve got to be blisteringly fast, Hulk-like strong, and have Ryan Fitzpatrick's Ivy League IQ.” My friends nodded in agreement.
“Oh, and they can’t be afraid to cry.”
This time, they laughed until they cried.
Who ever heard of a perfect athlete crying?
I don’t know if I’m breaking some forbidden mold by writing this, but in my book, the perfect athlete isn’t afraid to shed tears—to have streams of emotion pour from his/her eyes, in both happiness and sorrow.
For, undeniably, hidden far beneath the frustrating layers of greed and selfishness, the foundation of sports is still one built around passion and emotion. It’s so often easy to forget such a simple fact—especially when the cynical business side of sports constantly suffocates us with its intensity and volume.
Too often, we’ll see professional athletes lose an important game and move on like nothing bad had ever occurred. After all, why show any emotion when you still get the massive paycheck? And why care about the team’s loss when your personal statistics are good enough to nab another superfluous contract?
Why? Frankly, that’s a question that’s becoming harder and harder to answer. You used to be able to emphatically answer, “passion,” or “a genuine love for the game,” and people would cheer alongside you, proud and honored to be by a fellow fan who also appreciated the impeccable zeal of athletes.
Nowadays, it’s a shrug and an “oh well” attitude. It’s a world with Tony Romos who shrug off losses because their Jessica Simpson is waiting at home.
It’s too many Manny’s who care more about selling a grill on eBay than trying not to strikeout against Mariano Rivera.
And it’s not enough Kevin Garnetts who proudly leave their heart on their sleeve.
Ultimately, it’s nothing short of a shame.
There is nothing we need more now than for professional athletes to show us that they’re people, just like us, and that they fully understand how fortunate they are to be playing a game for a living, while the ordinary citizen gets by in jobs of necessity, not ones they necessarily love, to ensure their family has food the next day.
Some of us can’t pick the job we want because of financial limitations. Professional athletes, however, can. They get to experience the ups and downs of their careers without too much concern for their financial futures—all the while playing games they’ve loved since childhood.
All I ask from them is that they simply share that joy with us, and let us know that they care and treasure the opportunities and privileges they’ve worked so hard to earn.
Give the rest of us a taste of what it’s like to have genuine passion—unaffected by monetary pressures—merge itself in a career. Let us know you’re not just doing it for the fame and riches.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m by no means advocating sports over life itself. I certainly respect people like Romo and Manny for putting winning and losing into the bigger context of life. Indeed, the sun comes up tomorrow regardless of how the fourth quarter went.
But, don’t refuse to care about the results of your career simply because you’ve got fame and money tucked away in your back pocket. Instead, take advantage of the privileges you have, and completely immerse yourself in your job and your love.
Do what very few of us can do—love your career and care about its accomplishments—and you’ll receive our undying support and respect.
Because we all remember what it was like to be upset after losing a pickup football game and not having appetite for that night’s dinner.
Because we all remember being on our knees, our hands on the mound after giving up a walk-off homer.
And because we all remember being tossed in the air, with no idea of what was happening, after hitting a game-winning three.
As kids, we experienced all that, and we were never afraid of tearing up to console our grief or celebrate our happiness.
And that’s why we loved Michael Jordan, the undeniable ruler of air. His grace, talent, and godliness were enhanced each and every time he wept openly when holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy and appreciated all the more with every sign of frustration during meaningless regular-season games.
He not only cared and loved the game unconditionally, but he shared it with all of us, and for that we loved him.
Nobody dared called MJ a sissy. Nobody dared question his manliness or his passion.
He was the man, and boy, he might be the closest thing to a perfect athlete in my lifetime.
In hindsight, I really should have used MJ as an example instead of quoting, “The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears,” when defending my choice to my friends.
Yet, either way, I stand by my assessment of the perfect athlete, and I have a small hunch that Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, and Cristiano Ronaldo would all agree.