Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Like a Champion

The first section of the newspaper that Earl Warren opened up to in the morning was the Sports. For it was there that he could read all about mankind’s triumphs opposed to the front page which simply highlighted mankind’s failures. Oddly enough, in today’s newspapers it is a tough task to find any “good news,” from either front or back.

Contemporary athletes are under the microscope of the public eye. Little escapes the constant criticisms from fans and media alike. A dropped pass, a missed shot or strike out are always subject to the ubiquitous Monday morning quarterbacks that thrive on the should have/could have/would have/philosophy. Perhaps a better appreciation of today’s modern athlete would be in order if for once, some of the so-called experts’ got out from behind their desks, tried on a pair of sneakers and found themselves in the very arena that President Theodore Roosevelt felt so alive in:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

President Roosevelt was every bit a failure as he was a champion. As a child he was sickly and teased. It took him almost 20 years to find his niche as a biologist, writer, statesman, soldier and his most fond title of “cowboy.” None of those titles that he so rightfully earned were from the grandstands however. Rather, they were from the front lines in Cuba, the picket lines from the coal strikes and even across party lines as a politician.

I’ve always marveled at professional athletes. I’ve stalked them during batting practice at Fenway in order to get their autographs and collected their cards while attempting to memorize every statistic on the back. As I got older and started to train and understand the level of competition that was around me, I began to appreciate just how much work and dedication goes in before those seven figure checks get cashed. Few of us will ever get a look inside the gym where these high caliber athletes train and aside from the occasional reality show (for which I’m sure there is) the final product on Superbowl Sunday or the World Series might be as good as it gets. And for that I’m grateful.

I don’t get the opportunity to go in and see where you work and how well you do. I don’t stand over your shoulder at a desk making sure that every word that you typed was grammatically correct. I wonder how great of a feeling that might be for say Ken Griffey Jr if he followed one of his harshest critics to work. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody should expect athletes to be either. We expect them to make every shot, sure. But how many of those tough shots do we take in our own life?

This August we’ll have the privilege to watch such competition from some of the finest professional athletes from around the world. For over Four years athletes like Michael Phelps and Tyson Gay have trained year round to represent the US and for that shot at gold. I think they are worthy of our attention.

Two weeks after I left work early and stayed up late to watch every minute of the NBA Finals, I checked the mail to see that my Dad had sent me a bumper sticker of the Boston Celtics and the word “Champion,” in big bold letters. On it he attached a post-it that read “Always carry yourself like a Champion.”

I thought what a model to follow.

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