Sports Stars Are NOT Just Like Us
Star athletes occupy a unique space in our society and culture, because despite the combination of rare physical talent, wealth and fame, these are men and women who often grew up in the same cities and communities we call home.
In a sense, they keep one foot in the world connecting them to us and the other in the one that offers them red carpet treatment and all the other accouterments of their celebrity.
Sports stars—despite the money and headlines—maintain a kind of connection with fans; one that begins with their loyalty to a particular team or other affiliation.
So much so, that when one of these same individuals ignores a fan begging for an autograph or gets into trouble, it feels like a personal affront.
But the thing is, regardless of their roots and humble beginnings, there are more than a few legit reasons star athletes are not like us.
Money—wealth—is one obvious answer, but one that really simplifies the argument.
Here are reasons sports stars are NOT like us.
They Can Throw Things Really Fast, Far and Accurately
Nerf convinced a generation of kids that they're perfectly capable of launching a football 80 yards down-field and into the hands of their best friend—in stride.
And though plenty of people can point to stellar high school or rec-league stats as proof that they could throw a mean heater or perfectly place a tight spiral on a fade route, the best college and pro athletes are simply on another level.
Whether it's a major league pitcher consistently putting a baseball in a very small area that does not include the batter's face—at a very high speed—or the Saints' Drew Brees carving up a defense, there's simply no comparison.
Jay Z Wants to Represent Them
The odds of Jay Z ever running into the average person—in the sense that "running into" means his entourage (or maybe a windmilling Solange) clears you like a cow-catcher—are pretty low.
The odds that he wants to be your business partner and chief negotiator (no matter how great your mix-tape is) are infinitesimal.
And though newly minted Texan and former South Carolina star DE Jadeveon Clowney ultimately chose Bus Cook over Jay Z, there's no doubt who would make the young pro's business dealings more cool.
They Have 3 Justice Systems
The idea that "justice can be bought and paid for" is not new, and it didn't spontaneously burst forth as a talking point just because it sounds good.
For a sports star, this typically manifests itself as an advantage—perhaps the authorities choose not to zealously pursue charges, or an athlete is given a punishment that deviates from past practice.
Consider the recent story about Florida State's Jameis Winston; his crab leg-brouhaha resulted in an off-season "suspension" that's already over.
But, sometimes it works against athletes. If you or I are not charged with any crime or official transgression; the situation is over. For big names in the major sports leagues, they can still face punitive measures from their league and/or employer.
And then their is the court of public opinion and the black hole of bad news that is social media.
Their 1st Job Pays at Least 6 Figures
This one hurts a little.
The tried and true formula for a successful career goes like this: get into a college, graduate, get an entry-level job and work your way up.
It's not perfect, and a college degree is by no means the only way to build a good career, but the alternative always runs the risk of working menial jobs—or worse.
When you finally walk across the stage and get your diploma, you may enter a world where you are worth negative dollars if your education was bought and paid for by student loans. And a BS in Cultural Anthropology isn't likely to put you on the fast-track to upper management.
For the newest stars of the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, this formula is turned upside down. Their first job's salary range is based on talent and potential, and it pays well.
They Retire Before the Age of 40
- Go to school.
- Go to work.
In the United States, the traditional sequence of events that people follow for an average life is as follows:
The ratio of these life stages makes "work" a giant slab of bologna between two sad slices of plain, white bread.
For pro athletes, this process is upended.
The very nature of the job creates an unavoidable time limit on their career as an athlete—the physical demands shorten the timeline, and an injury can end it prematurely. Whether they walk away at their prime (like Barry Sanders with the Detroit Lions) or hang on long enough to reach a milestone (like Mark Messier with the New York Rangers), retirement is inevitable.
Of course not all star athletes retire at 40 (give or take a few years), and "retirement" doesn't necessarily mean that the next 40-plus years of their life will be spent on cruises and in casinos. It means their career—as in what they were great at—is over.
They Are Immortalized by Memorials
Outside the Scientology campus in Los Angeles, it's highly unlikely that any city is going to commission a Tom Cruise statue in a public space.
Even less probable? Some dude being immortalized in the frozen pose of bronze just for being a nice person.
Few people evoke such a strong collective sense of adoration in a community as a legendary athlete.
Names like Jackie Robinson, Joe Namath and Bobby Orr are transcendent in sports, and they grew up on the same streets as their fans—facing the same hardships, but ultimately persevering and becoming symbols of hope.
They Get LOTS of Cool Stuff for Free
For the masses, the word "free" always comes with a caveat; rewriting the definition of the word to the extent that free hardly resembles the idea behind it.
If "free" truly entailed a pair of cocktail wienies slouching in a tiny paper cup, or a $29.99 "shipping and handling fee" no one would be so eager to advertise the word.
For pro athletes, "free" is pure and unadulterated—"free" means unlimited access to amazing products by high-end brands.
Endorsement deals with companies like Adidas, Gatorade and Nike turn the most recognizable names in sports into living advertisements, paying them handsomely and stocking their shelves with the kind of swag you and I would have to max our credit cards to afford.
They Have Amazing Nicknames
Nicknames are a double-edged sword. You typically get one because people notice you, but they notice you because of something you'd never pick to inspire your nickname.
Just ask any Scott that's had the misfortune of being known as "Scooter."
For star athletes, the nickname often takes hold long before any single act inspires it—in fact, fans and the media will clamor for a moniker that sticks. Especially, if the star's actual name simply lends itself to embellishment.
They Made 'Tommy John Surgery' a Thing
In March, Dr. Frank Jobe passed away at age 88, leaving behind the legacy of being the inventor of the "Tommy John surgery."
Dr. Jobe pioneered the procedure in 1974, when he performed it on Dodgers pitcher Tommy John who had ruptured his medial collateral ligament in his elbow—effectively, a career-ending injury at the time.
Tommy John surgery involves transplanting a ligament from the wrist into the elbow and with rehabilitation, has allowed MLB pitchers and other pro athletes to continue their careers.
Near miraculous when it was first performed, the idea that the surgery can not only repair damaged ligaments but make a pitcher better than prior to the injury has fueled much insanity.
Rarely outside of sports medicine does a non-lifesaving medical procedure attain near-mythic status; if it did, a boob-job would be known as a "Hefner."
They Marry Some of the Most Gorgeous People in the World
Athletes reach superstar status by becoming the best at their sport, by winning championships and breaking records.
Some may be handsome or beautiful, too, but looks and charisma are not any significant part of the equation.
If you throw a crushing interception, miss an open layup, get disqualified in a gold-medal Olympic round, or fan on a shot into a wide-open net, a pretty face won't save you from the blow-back.
As a result, sports has produced eclectic marriages—with a gorgeous woman being the common thread—like Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, Jeff Gordon and Ingrid Vandebosch, and Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones.
They Have Their Own TV Channel
Sure, there are cable networks that specialize in particular niches, but none make their programming a lazy Susan of personality cults like ESPN.
Do you love Tim Tebow and think he's unfairly maligned because of a biased sports media? You're covered.
Are you annoyed by Tim Tebow and think he's a great collegiate athlete artificially propped up by the sports media? Again, you're covered.
You may point to E! and other networks that dedicate their time and copy to celebrities as a counterpoint, but they're still not like us.
Need further proof? ESPN hires it's subjects.
And, only ESPN can focus a camera on three to four dudes—at a table—for hours and hours as they speculate on the prospects and prospectus of the roughly 20-year-old former college athletes who weren't picked in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.
Their Job Is Our Adolescent (Sometimes Grown-Up) Dream
Yeah. I get it. Being a top athlete is nothing like the fantasies of a child who imagines they're stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, down one, with two outs and a man on base, in Game 7 of the World Series.
You're right. Unless you've walked a day in their shoes—enduring the countless hours of sweat, pain and frustration of trying to win—then such whimsical musings are as naive as they are unrealistic.
Yet, there's a reason so many of us pretended to be Michael Jordan, Mary Lou Retton or whoever drew our inspiration. They hoist the Stanley Cup to an ecstatic crowd, put on the "Green Jacket," hit the winning jumper with time running, out and score the equalizer in the World Cup.
What the greatest athletes have achieved is magical—and no one in their shoes has ever opined about not being in ours (at least seriously).
Anything that matters requires a commitment to getting better, passion and hard work. Star athletes go to work and do what the rest of us tried to emulate in back yards, fields and gymnasiums; with joy.
They Are the Stuff of Modern Legends
The kind of story that persists among our friends, family and coworkers usually involves some epic level of binge-drinking, followed by an event that either: a., defies such a level of inebriation, or b., completely validates it.
And not that being the last man standing in a terribly misguided game of Edward Fortyhands isn't something to be proud of, but the stories written by the words and deeds of the most transcendental figures in sports are cut from a different cloth.
From Babe Ruth calling his shot, the Immaculate Reception and the Miracle on Ice, to the tragically short career of Bo Jackson—forever embodied by his unstoppable facsimile in Tecmo Super Bowl—Kerri Strug's one-legged vault and David Tyree's one-handed, helmet catch; countless examples exist of athletes creating modern legends.
When Their Career Is Over, They Get Paid to Talk About Everyone Else's
Hall of Famer, simply successful, middling, or a complete flame out; one thing is certain in the intertwining worlds of sports and sports broadcasting, there's probably a job in a television studio or radio station waiting for you.
The above statement is an exaggeration of course, but there is no questioning the fact that being a former athlete of a sport gives a person instant cache as a commentator.
A reality that frequently leads to employment based upon the hope that the individual can be as consistently solid as their brief appearances prior to landing a full-time gig.
What happens when one of us gets fired, resigns or even retires?
The answer is not sitting in a television studio giving our opinion why "Chuck keeps stealing other people's sandwiches from the break room fridge."
There's a reason that musician Christopher Cross—the man behind the tunes that soothed your nerves in the waiting room of the dentist's office—wrote "Ride like the wind" and Jamaican sprinter/superstar Usain Bolt wins gold medals.
Bolt runs like the wind.
Some people are pretty good athletes; good enough to be known as, "Becky, from accounting, who runs all those marathons."
But few are great. And, there's nothing wrong with that.
The bottom line is that sports stars aren't like us, because they do things we struggle to accomplish in video games playing as...them.
And the fact that so many accomplished athletes grew up without power or privilege in communities we call our own, yet turned their ability to run faster, jump higher and lift more into a career built on these very same talents is a feat that deserves our admiration.