Home > Rant, Uncategorized > The athlete’s sacrifices for greatness and what it means to the fan

The athlete’s sacrifices for greatness and what it means to the fan

Some time ago when a player was great, he or she was beloved. Now they are questioned.

In the microscope today’s athlete lives under, a publicist’s job is a lot harder. It seems like corruption and scandal soiled sports at every level in recent years, but the phenomenon is nothing new.

Cam Newton will forever be remembered as one (if not THE) greatest college football players ever, and will always live under the dark cloud of the “pay for play” scandal he allegedly took part in at Auburn. Pete Carroll’s USC teams of the mid-2000’s were the closest thing to a dynasty college football has seen since Florida State and Nebraska in the 90’s, and will always be accompanied by the ugly asterisk of stripped national titles and awards after investigation of the program.

Tiger Woods was arguably on the fast track to ousting Michael Jordan as the greatest professional athlete of all time, before, well, you know the story. And the aforementioned Jordan? His arrogance and penchant for grudge-holding set me over the metaphoric edge today when I read Thomas Lake of Sports Illustrated’s profile of Clifton “Pop” Herring, Jordan’s high school coach who “cut” him, motivating Michael to become the greatest.

If you want to spare 12 pages of profile, the article brings to light the actual details of Jordan’s high school playing career. Jordan’s sophomore year, Coach Herring gave 6-foot-7-inch sophomore Leroy Smith the last spot on the varsity in order to give Laney High School the height they desperately needed in the middle. Jordan landed on the JV team for just one year.

If you’ve listened to Jordan speak about what drives him, you’ve heard about his high school coach that “cut” him, the coach that MJ set out “to prove wrong.” That’s Coach Herring.

That’s the same coach that welcomed Jordan into his home whenever he wanted, feeding him, lending him his truck. And placed him on varsity just one year later. The coach that helped him find his way to the University of North Carolina.


I’m a fan of Cam Newton. I watched USC in amazement when Pete Carroll (who I still believe is a magnificent coach) led the Trojans during their run last decade. I still maintain that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever to walk the planet and will watch him walk Augusta until the day he can’t walk anymore or my eyes can’t see him do it. I’ll never forget watching Air Jordan sink the jumper against Utah in the finals as child, not even knowing why I loved him so much.

I’m a fan of theses athletes, not necessarily of these people. So what about their sacrifices?

If you like sports in any capacity, you know you don’t succeed without making sacrifices. The hours put in, the money spent, the heartache endured – but what else? What about socially? emotionally? Psychologically?

Larry Bird was great at the cost of his childhood. Bird didn’t have friends, so he played around the world by himself until he was perfect. When he was perfect, he played around the world by himself until every shot hit nothing but net.

Todd Marinovich, one time USC quarterback also sacrificed his entire childhood to become the quarterback he was as a Trojan. He succumbed to addiction of hard drugs for years after fizzling out of the NFL. Did he sacrifice his stability? His sanity?

Tiger Woods also sacrificed his childhood. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his famed book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master one’s craft, which usually comes sometime around your mid thirties. By all accounts, Woods likely had those 10,000 hours in before he had a driver’s license.

Michael Jordan’s fuel comes from a persistent need to disprove people, from unfathomable grudges. Did he sacrifice his reputation? His likability? After years of arrogance, he affirmed the belief with his NBA Hall of Fame acceptance speech “crediting” his success to all those who “doubted” him.

There’s countless examples that make you wonder exactly what it is a great player sacrificed to become who they are. Would Jordan be the greatest without the angst raging inside of him there to fuel him? If Woods hadn’t grown up with such an intense resolve, personality and competitiveness, would he be the short-tempered champion he is today? Would Larry Bird go down as one of the purest shooters to hit the hardwood if he had friends like any normal kid?


 Sadly in today’s sport’s world not only is everything scoured by the media, but also scandal selling a hell of a lot more papers than good news. But the phenomenon is nothing new.

Corruption in sports has been around much longer than me, and much longer than my parents. And their parents, and their parents’ parents. It’s the same with unpleasant secrets and details about our beloved athletes and the sacrifices they made. Even Joe DiMaggio discreetly smoked his cigarettes in the dugout to keep kids from seeing him. These days, he couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes without being hounded by cameras.

So remember, in this generation, one that seems riddled with scandals that bring down the greats, try to remember we’re not in a dark age of sports. We’re living in what I like the call the “Dark Knight” days of sports, and the coach’s office is Gotham City. Perpetrators of corruption in scandal in sports are taking notice and thinking twice.

Remember, you can’t put every great athlete’s sacrifice down on a spreadsheet. You may not like it, but some players may have sacrificed a value you hold dear in order to become who they are, whether intentional or not. Being great comes at an incredible cost, and it isn’t always pleasant or likable. Be careful of who your “role model” is because as we’re seeing in recent years, less and less athletes are as worthy to be role models as we once thought.

Remember, it’s not our generation of athletes, it’s our generation of awareness. Some would rather not know what their favorite athlete is really like; for times more like that of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Remember these athletes have made great sacrifices to become the champion that you and I are not.


If you have any interest in Michael Jordan, and I mean any, do yourself a favor and read the Sport’s Illustrated article linked above. It’s a beautifully written piece about the coach that according to Jordan “cut him” and underestimated him. It’s a prime example of why I personally try to be strictly a fan of the player not the person.

Categories: Rant, Uncategorized
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