Presumptive No. 1 NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence said in a Sports Illustrated article written by Michael Rosenberg that he didn't need football to lead a fulfilled life, with those close to him adding he's never defined himself through wins, losses, titles or awards.
But there was backlash to those remarks, because there almost always is, and Lawrence clarified things Saturday:
"It's not like I need this for my life to be OK," Lawrence said of football in the SI article.
"I want to do it because I want to be the best I can be. I want to maximize my potential. Who wouldn't want to? You kind of waste it if you don't."
Here's another excerpt from that article:
"'It's hard to explain that because I want people to know that I'm passionate about what I do and it's really important to me, but ... I don't have this huge chip on my shoulder, that everyone's out to get me and I'm trying to prove everybody wrong,' he says. 'I just don't have that. I can't manufacture that. I don't want to.' Marissa [his wife] adds, 'There's also more in life than playing football.'
"'Yeah,' Trevor says. 'And I think people mistake that for being a competitor. ... I think that's unhealthy to a certain extent, just always thinking that you've got to prove somebody wrong, you've got to do more, you've got to be better.'"
In professional sports, winning at all costs is glorified. Fans gravitate toward players who are obsessed with the grind and addicted to getting better. Discussing which player is the G.O.A.T. and whether others can be considered legends without a title to their names is a near daily occurrence in sports media. Stories of Michael Jordan's using every minor or perceived slight to motivate him are baked deeply into lore and in turn help shape our culture's value systems.
There's no doubt a singular focus on winning and greatness is the fuel for many of the greatest athletes. The question is whether such an approach is healthy. Is it OK to attach your happiness and personal value to whether you win?
Lawrence clearly doesn't think so.
NFL on ESPN @ESPNNFL
.@minakimes reacts to Trevor Lawrence's 'no chip on my shoulder' comments: "You can be passionate about what you do... but it doesn't have to be your identity... If anything, I came out of reading this piece even more impressed by his level of self-awareness." https://t.co/6s9ClyxXPo
Bucky Brooks @BuckyBrooks
Every player doesn’t have an underdog mentality—and that’s okay. Lawrence has been celebrated as a QB1 since his teens and he LIVED up to the hype. People around him speak to his competitiveness & focus on being an all-time great. His actions matter more than his words. #NFLDraft https://t.co/vAhrxrqwm4
His remarks were similar to something Kevin Durant—an NBA MVP, two-time champion and 11-time All-Star—said to ESPN's Rachel Nichols:
"I wasn't expecting to be a happy human being from a title. I was just expecting like, you know, the ending of a movie—once you worked so hard and everybody tells you like, 'Yo, this is what you need to be working for, is this gold ball and these rings.' And I'm just like, 'All right, cool, let me lock in on that.' And I locked in on wanting to achieve that, but I also realized it's a lot of stuff that factors in it that's out of my control.
"And once I won a championship, I realized that, like, my view on this game is really about development. Like, how good can I be? It's not about, you know, let's go get this championship. I appreciate that stuff and I want to win to experience that stuff, but it's not the end-all, be-all of why I play the game."
Perhaps it's simply a matter of what motivates individual athletes. Some may use the desire for a title or the need to prove detractors wrong. Others may look inward, hoping to become the best versions of themselves and let the chips fall where they may.
When it comes to Lawrence, nobody will question his motivations if he becomes a great NFL quarterback. And if he doesn't, well, people will. Professional sports and how its athletes are perceived, for better or worse, is almost always that binary.