The Price of Going Pro
Dreams of being a pro athlete are not limited to little boys. When I was younger, I used to imagine a life playing basketball at the professional level. Don’t ask me how I thought it would work as a female, but when you’re a kid, those details don’t get in the way of a great dream. Fast forward 15 years, knowing NOW what I didn’t know then, I wouldn’t trade places with a professional athlete for all the money Alex Rodriguez has made in his baseball career. Most pro athletes are handsomely paid to play a game, and their lives may look perfect on TV or in magazines. But the money and fame come with their own set of problems.
Easy to start plotting what we’d do with $100 million, isn’t it? Right now, I’m thinking about the mortgage and school loans I could pay off and how I could ensure my family is set for life. There are home improvements, a boat, a trip to Italy, and some charitable organizations I’d like to support. The best part would be seemingly never having to worry about money again. But that’s a smoke-screen. Money doesn’t fix everything; in fact, being rich includes a unique set of challenges. Money is a huge temptation for many, and this world is full of free-loaders and people who think family or friend ties guarantee them a cut. Generous athletes with big hearts, especially those from meager backgrounds, often shell out millions to take care of everyone around them. Or the dollars burn a hole in their pockets, and they go crazy spending like there’s no tomorrow. Incredible how many athletes who earn millions end up broke because of poor choices, poor management, and poor relationships. It’s hard enough to know who to trust in this world, but the rich are a magnet for the greedy and those with less-than-noble intentions.
My friends like to tease me and call me “famous.” Of course, I’m not. It’s only a very small percentage of the people who listen to sports radio that recognize my name. While my Facebook and Twitter bases are growing, they’re nothing like the 2.2 million fans who follow Paul Pierce. I can’t even fathom that kind of notoriety or the lack of privacy that comes with it. I take great pains to protect my privacy by keeping my family anonymous and by hiding as much personal information as possible. I’m also extremely careful with my posts on social media, knowing that once I publish, my words can never be permanently deleted. Again, I’m NOT famous like the pro athletes who have to stay on guard all the time. Everything they say, tweet or post, everywhere they go, everything they do, every mistake they make ends up a matter of public record. They live most of their lives in a fish bowl. Very little remains sacred in today’s culture of smart phones equipped with camera, video, and instant internet access. Google, YouTube, and the 24-hour news cycle make it impossible to fly under the radar as a star athlete.
After hearing about the shocking death of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau this week, I spent time thinking about the pressure on pro athletes. A man known for his wide smile, boundless energy, passion for football, commitment to community, and a successful foundation shot himself to death. The pressure to cultivate, promote, and maintain a reputation with mass appeal must be overwhelming. Pro athletes are deemed heroes to be worshipped and obsessed over. They’re not supposed to have flaws or weaknesses. Maybe that’s why Junior Seau didn’t reach out for help, why he didn’t even tell his family or closest friends that he was struggling. The pressure to perform doesn’t end when a pro athlete retires.
Maybe the adrenaline rush of nailing the game-winning shot or tossing the touchdown pass to win the Super Bowl is unmatched by anything in my life; but I’ll happily take my townhouse in the woods, tiny bank account, and relative anonymity.