I have had one dream all my life, and that is to be a professional athlete.
As I sit (OK, lay) here as a slightly overweight 22-year-old with a bad right shoulder, I'm pretty certain that the dream is dead for me.
God has blessed with me more than I could ever ask for, but he has not given me a 4.4 forty-time, a 48" vertical, or flypaper for hands.
Rather, he has given me the next best thing. He has given me the ability to write about the players and coaches who live "The Dream."
But for those who do live it, "The Dream" is, simply, life. And there is no doubting that many people like myself would, as the saying goes, kill for the opportunity to live that lifestyle; to throw touchdowns, hit home runs, score goals.
Even more-so, to be on cereal boxes, have your own trading card, and get drafted in fantasy leagues would just add more thrills to this already awesome way of life. You are getting paid to play sports.
Not only that, you are getting paid a whole lot more than you would be getting doing something far less entertaining. Tell me something better than that, I dare you...
In the four major sports, there are approximately 3,550 athletes on a roster at any given time. Think about that for a second. When I graduated high school in June of 2004, there were about 1,500 kids in the entire building.
That means that in a country of over 300 million, about two of my high schools- or about one of every 100,000 people—is living that life. Those kind of odds make Shaq's free throw percentage look legendary.
So as we see it so far, being a professional athlete is:
- A.) Awesome.
- B.) A rarity, to say the least.
- C.) Pays well.
- D.) Is full of benefits.
- E.) Still awesome.
But apparently being a professional athlete is also:
- F.) Never enough (for some).
Let's start in the NFL. Over the past eight years or so, Terrell Owens has been one of, if not the, most consistent wide receiver in the NFL.
However, the man who has a 20 catch game to his name, along with eight seasons with 10+ touchdown catches, has drawn more attention from his off the field antics and sideshows than his performances on Sundays.
In fact, it has gotten to the point where he now has more "fans" on gameday because of these actions. T.O. signed with his fourth professional team this offseason when he inked a deal with the Buffalo Bills.
He was welcomed in Orchard Park by thousands of fans hoping Owens would be the big time wideout Buffalo has been lacking since the glory days of Eric Moulds.
In San Fransisco, Owens was supposed to become the replacement for All-Universe WR Jerry Rice. And he did just that. From 2000-2002, Owens had 290 catches and 42 touchdowns. Those numbers aren't just good, they're monstrous. He led the 49ers to a huge playoff comeback against the New York Giants in a game which will never be forgotten by anyone who watched it. He was the best thing to happen to the West Coast Offense since George Seifert.
But the saga between T.O.'s ego and then-coach Steve Mariucci got to a boiling point in 2002, and Owens was gone.
In Philadelphia, Owens was supposed to be the big name wideout Donovan McNabb never had. And he was just that. In his first season as an Eagle, Owens scored 14 touchdowns in 14 games. Cowboys' safety Roy Williams infamously broke T.O.'s leg, in Week 16, but Owens made a Willis Reed-esque appearance in the Super Bowl for the Eagles only six weeks later. By that time, Owens' status for the game had become bigger than the game itself. Either way, the Eagles had the big offensive weapon they had been searching for for years.
But once again, Owens' ego got in the way. His confrontations with Andy Reid, McNabb, and even Hugh Douglass all made the front page in cities nationwide. The 5-to-81 combo could have become one of the greatest in NFL history, but Terrell just couldn't have it that way. For the second time, Owens was gone.
In Dallas, Owens was supposed to be the big name superstar, bought by the big-money-tycoon-owner, playing for America's Team and lighting up the scoreboard week in and week out. And he did just that. Thirty-eight touchdowns in 47 games is production at the highest level, no matter how you look at it. He missed only one game in his three seasons in "Big D," and led the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2006 and 2007.
But 2008 brought out the same old T.O. Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett, and Tony Romo all hit Owens' personal hitlist. The only thing on the planet big enough to match the size of his paychecks was his ego.
Whatever Owens wants, he demands. That ranges from a chicken sandwich before the game, to more balls thrown his way, to a new offensive coordinator (Hell, he may have been the one who ordered the construction of the new Dallas Stadium).
When all was said and done, the end result was another exile from another good NFL franchise. If Owens loved football as much as he should, odds are he would still be an Eagle with at least one Super Bowl ring.
Pac-Man Jones is a completely different beast, but the ideals are all the same. Here is a guy who just loves himself more than the game of football. Had Pac-Man loved—or even cared—about the NFL, he never would have made it rain in Las Vegas. He, then, would never have had to join TNA Wrestling to pass the time. He could be a 25-year-old corner back in Tennessee, and a damn good one at that.
Instead, he is unemployed and has probably played his last game in the NFL.
For Owens and Jones, "The Dream" simply isn't enough. They want more. They want to be bigger than the game, to have the NFL be a storyline in their lives, and not vice-versa.
For Owens and Jones, football is no longer fun. Fun to them is the paparazzi, swarms of cameras, and paragraphs about them being streamed on news tickers. Paragraphs which have nothing to do with on the field performance.
These two, however, are not the only culprits of have an insatiable thirst for more. If it's not about conduct, it's about money. Just ask Alex Rodriguez.
When I told one of my most loyal readers that I would be writing this piece, he began to hit me with some questions.
I brought up the greed which almost got Alex exiled from the Bronx two offseasons ago, when an A-Rod storyline interrupted The World Series. Not Sportscenter. Not a regular season game. It was the deciding game of the World Series.
Rodriguez was in the seventh year of a tean year deal which paid him $25 million annually (please take a moment to find your wallet or last ATM receipt, calculate your own personal funds, and see if they are even %0.001 of what Rodriguez makes per year).
Along with baseball's biggest arch nemesis, Scott Boras, Rodriguez decided to opt out of his contract (he had a clause in his contract which allowed him to do just this after 7 seasons).
So why would he do that? Had the Yankees not done enough to put the best team on the field? Hard to argue that when the Bombers pour more money into their rosters each year than any other team.
Could he not handle the New York media? I mean, I still don't think he can, but think about that theory for a second. If Rodriguez was trying to escape the media blitz which had engulfed him since his first day in the Bronx, he wasn't going to find much relief in places which could pay him what he wanted.
Los Angeles, Boston, the other New York team- all these places would bring the same enemy to A-Rod's locker/frontlawn day in and day out. Did he want to go to, say, Kansas City?
Maybe part of him did, but there was no way he was ready for a midwest pay-cut the size of the one a lower market team would give him. A-Rod wanted more. He wanted more money.
After all, $25 million won't pay all the bills these days...
Then the next question comes into play: If you can make more money, then why wouldn't you? The same reader said to me, "OK, if you were making $2 million and someone told you that you could make $20 million, why wouldn't you take it?"
Here's my problem with that question: If you were making $2 million, odds are you are not getting an $18 million upgrade in one contract. But let's say you were making $15 million and got offered that $5 million raise.
At this point in your life, what difference does that $5 million make? It's all monopoly money, money which you will be credited with in your contract, but will probably never see (unless you're MC Hammer).
More importantly, saying you make $20 million as opposed to $15 million is an ego boost which athletes like Rodriguez prefer more than actually having the dough. Being the highest paid player in the league is like being the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 of cars. You are the best.
You are the highest paid. You are the most sought after asset in your field. No one can even unscrew your gas cap, that's how much better you are than everyone else.
In A-Rod's case, his now $27.5 million a year salary is a navy and white pinstriped Bugatti. Riding shotgun with Rodriguez is, of course, his ego.
For someone like Michael Vick, there is not much to say. He was THE HIGHEST PAID PLAYER IN THE NFL. Period. Regardless of position, team, whatever. He was it. And he threw it all away for the thrill of betting a couple hundred dollars on dogs killing each other.
Mr. Vick, you have indeed paid your debt to society, and you deserve the chance to get back into the NFL. But whatever happens from here on in, be aware that no one has any sympathy for you as far as your professional football career goes.
Yes, players tend to be very forgiving to other players. But you made your millions- the same millions you threw away in legal fees over the past 18 months- because of all the fans who loved you.
All the fans who looked up to you, bought your jersey, went to Atlanta to watch you, rode The Michael Vick Experience in Georgia—WE were the reasons you were so paid. You had it all, and you threw it away.
You want to ask fans for forgiveness? And sympathy? No pun intended, but boy are you "barking" up the wrong tree.
We need more athletes who still love the game more than the paychecks they receive. Guys like Tedy Bruschi, who willingly took a paycut during the New England Patriot's run of 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.
Why? He loved to win. He loved the fact that each week he was playing for the best team in the league each week. A team which was the best thanks, in part, to Bruschi's contentedness with a salary which was already more than enough to provide a great living environment for both him and his family.
Tedy brings his A-game each week for the Pats, keeps his mouth shut, and wins. And gets paid. And is loved by millions of Patriot fans worldwide.
Did I mention the guy had a stroke and almost died? And did you ever hear a whisper of anger or self loathing? Did he ever call for sympathy, or more from Robert Kraft and the franchise because of his ailment?
No. Instead, he worked harder than ever to get back on that field on Sunday's. Because he loves the game, not the money. He had an opportunity to make more money in 1999, when he was a free agent.
However, Bruschi had more than a big payday on his mind.
"I am too emotionally invested in all of our wins and all of our losses, and when I went to Green Bay, the only thing I was thinking about the whole time was them beating us in the Super Bowl [in the 1996 season]," he recalled. "I was irritated the whole time just being there. That made things clear to me that I wasn't going to come, and it was the first 10 seconds I walked into the building."
For Tedy, playing in New England his entire career—and winning—has been priority 1A since he got drafted in 1996. He has never been considered the best linebacker in the NFL, but he has three Super Bowl rings which would suggest otherwise.
His family has lived comfortably in Massachusetts since his career started. Each morning Tedy wakes up, he knows his future is in Foxboro.
Owens is now on his fourth franchise, Rodriguez his third, and Pac-Man played for two in only 4 seasons as a pro. Why?
Despite their athletic excellence, despite how insanely talented and gifted these guys are, and despite that each at one point may have been considered the best at their respective positions, they all have their "excess baggage." They have been blessed with lives which people would do anything to have. And I know my emotions have clearly spilt onto this article, but it is something which really drives me absolutely crazy.
So to you, Terrell, I wish you nothing but the best in Buffalo. You have the talent to bring Buffalo fans the success which they have not seen since the Kelly/Levy Era.
A-Rod, please keep blasting home runs into the power alley at the new Yankee Stadium for as long as you'd like.
And Michael, wherever you end up, I hope you bring a boost to that team.
But please guys, remember just how lucky you are. Because for you, this is life, but for millions and millions of people like me worldwide, you are our idols. You are what draws us to TVs and radios each night.
You're not just living "The Life..."
You're living "The Dream."