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.

8 Responses to “The Price of Going Pro”

  1. TaiwanMike Says:

    I think the way to tell the difference between the hangers-on and the true friends is that they have to ask themselves, “Were they here when I needed them?”. When times are good, everybody wants to hang out, but were they around when times were bad?

    Just out of curiosity, do you get stopped in restaurants by fans of your show? That would have to be such a thrill when it first happens, but I could see how it would really wear on someone when they have no sense of anonymity. Anonymity can be seriously underrated.

    The age that we live in does have some advantages like everybody being able to get their name out there with a blog or a website, but it also causes massive overload, and there is no such thing as privacy anymore. We all have done, and will continue to do stupid things (to varying levels of degree), but those acts always have the chance to appear for everybody to see. The pressure on someone with two million Twitter followers must be enormous. Even the most innocuous comments have the chance to offend someone.

    • Thanks for reading, Mike. Now and then, yes, my voice gets recognized & people will ask me if I work in radio. Agree with you about the pressure – enormous!

      Hope you have a good week!

  2. I totally agree with you Amy.. There is a part of me that loves the notoriety that has come from my music career, part of me would like to achieve a little more, and then there’s a part that is thankful for being able to go to a restaurant and being able to enjoy a meal and only being interrupted by the waiter.

    • You’ve got the healthiest outlook on this and God has blessed us both with a window to see that the grass isn’t always greener.. My situation could stand improvement but I, like you, am sure thankful for where I am right now…

  3. Orange Fan Says:

    Great post, Amy. What do you think of athletes like LeBron James and others who have been in the spotlight before they were even out of high school? They don’t know a different lifestyle than always being “on guard” and watching everything they do and say. They still make mistakes but do you think “growing up” in that environment helps them deal with it better than you or I possibly could?

    • Hey – thanks for reading! Stands to reason that athletes who start their public education a whole lot younger (like Lebron who was on the cover of SI as a high school student) would be better equipped to handle the harsh spotlight. He’s a great example of a guy who’s made some very public mistakes but never hidden behind them, and he uses those experiences to guide him down the road. “The Decision,” his defiance in the face of backlash, even his twitter feud with Kendrick Perkins – all have come back to bite him, but he admits when he’s wrong, continues to put himself out there, interacts with fans, and tries to stay honest and true to himself. It definitely helps when you have mentors in the business who’ve gone before you or close friends who can identify with your struggle. Lebron always talks about how much he relies on Dwayne Wade in Miami now.

      Of course, every individual athlete will sink or swim, either figure it out or not. It can make a huge difference in image and perception. Not sure Tiger Woods has bounced back as easily or that he’s perceived as fondly anymore.

  4. Elise Newman Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful take on this issue Amy.
    I can’t imagine not being able to find peace and solitude in my life.
    Fame and riches would be great but there is certainly is a price to be paid.
    Keep up the great work Amy.

  5. Jack Murray Says:

    Amy, I’ve like you since I heard you get under the hair of Mel Kiper on a Saturday ESPN radio show you two did briefly together two or three years ago.

    It was the time you said runs batted in should be pronounced “RBI,” singular and plural. Mel argued the plural should be “RBIs”. You never let up on the iconic Kiper, something that Mel’s legions of fans probably didn’t like.

    It may seem silly, but I got a kick out of your gumption and relentlessness on this seemingly insignificant issue. The listeners could sense Mel getting annoyed. But he was equally as stubborn as you.

    At any rate, some of my friends and former colleagues do not like you. I can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s just because you are just being you. But even your detractors have to appreciate your snarky comebacks to their derogatory posts and tweets.

    I hope you keep doing what you’re doing, only even better. I look forward to the radio shows you do solo and, in the future, with Linda Cohn. That could be, and should be, entertaining. A female version of the “Coach and Coleman” show, perhaps.

    Oh, yeah, congrats on your aging Celtics getting past the Altanta Hawks.

    Your friends are right. You are famous. In your own right.

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