Friday, March 21, 2008


If you noticed a day ago, there was a slight error in the poll. Unintentional, of course, but bad enough all the same. Because of general curiosity from those who come upon Scribe, the poll will remain here until April 1st.

One of the strangest and most baffling occurences in sports takes place in barbershops, workplace kitchenettes and message boards across the globe. It's the moment when the mere mention of a particular athlete's name invites the most absurd comments about his or her work ethic.

When did Shaquille O'Neal first become out-of-shape and fat?

When did Tyler Hansborough become the hardest working basketball player in the rich history of college basketball?

When did Vince Carter or his third cousin, Tracy McGrady ever look as if they were dogging it?

When did the now-retired Brett Favre become the toughest player to ever strap on a football helmet?

When did the Williams sisters

When did Miguel Cabrera or Andruw Jones fall to the "one Angus Deluxe away from eating his baseball career away" category?

These are just a few of the many instances where we tend to believe that a player isn't giving his all or a player is so passionate that - to borrow from the excellent new Nike campaign's slogan - his better is better than someone else's in terms of work ethic. Yet, there is something inherently wrong about trying to gauge someone's efforts on the playing surface.

Well, there are a few things wrong with this, to be real with you.

First of all, despite the great recreational runners and pick-up ballers that read Scribe, fans in general are not exactly embodiments of athletic excellence. In fact, the most athletic thing most of us actually does is roll out of bed. This isn't intended to be a slam or a mock at all, so much that this brings up a point. There are very few people in the world that can carry their athletic aspirations beyond their high school gymnasiums and neighborhood parks. It took some sort of persistence to be the best around the block, even if we probably had a good game against them at some point. Yet, they had desire and enough talent to build upon to the next level, from AAU and high school to some form of college (four-year or JuCo) to the elite professional stratosphere. Some work so hard to be so good that is seems easy and effortless when in fact, it took years of crafting their skills.

Secondly, these statements tend to be regurgitated from media reports and commentary, but rarely understood and questioned. Sports media has a lengthy history of members who made names for themselves by being vitriolic or overly flattering of certain athletes and leagues. Yet, most of this happened with only editors and stockholders as the defining check and balance of their expressions. Now, with immediate response from fans and colleagues through readily avaiable media, you would think that media heads and players-turned-analysts would be held a little more accountable or at the very least, be more discriminating with their opinions and word choice. Sadly, nothing has really changed except that there are more people involved. Sadly, there are more people believing the hype or repeating what they've heard. In the words of SPJ, "just turn off (insert media outlet here) and think for yourself".

Temperment plays a significant role in how a player's ethic is received. Think of how suddenly, Eli Manning has a legion of fans believing in him after his Giants' Super Bowl win last month. Manning had been derided by beat writers (not this one), columnists, talkies (again, not this one) and TV analysts for not having the personality of a quarterback who would kill his mother for a victory. His body language showed nonchalance when the Giants, notably he, struggled over the past two years. He was never found to scream in complete lunacy as Dan Marino did in his career, yet, even in good or great games outside of Super Bowl XLII, you didn't see a Tiger Woods triumphant fist pump, either. Because there was nothing for the camera to pan to, did this mean that he didn't care or that he wasn't into the moment? Did this mean that Manning did not put his work in during the week to prepare for Sundays? Manning's successful final weeks should serve as a reminder that you don't need to be a "rah-rah" athlete to win, let alone play at all.

The last reason for the absurdity of questioning a player's work ethic comes from something that has no statistic behind it: outside influence. How often do we hear about the player's personal life - for better or worse - seeping into their play? Family concerns, bad breakups and divorces, legal woes, adjusting to new locations - all of these play tremendous roles in how a player appears during a game. We may not learn of all of these travails publicly, but we still mouth off without having the slightest clue. Case in point: the infamous Allen Iverson "Practice" press conference. While he has laughed about it since, reading the full transcript should give you a glimpse of what was going on in his head at the time. Yet, when he was on the court, it was impossible to say that he wasn't giving his full effort; sometimes, you can say he put too much of himself on the line at the expense of his physical health and teammates' development.

Athletes receive the recognition that they do for a reason, whether many in society approve of this or not. Where most of us were limited by life-altering decisions or by lack of talent or physicque or just didn't have aspirations to take our games to the next level, any athlete who is playing in a highly-recognizable league has to have had a strong work ethic to get there. There are few people on earth who are willing to use their entire physical being to play a game or for a chance to make a living from doing so. To assume how hard they work is a little difficult considering that we're just observers, not actually playing with them.

Or maybe that's just one person's opinion.

So you probably think this post is hogwash and that's okay. After all, we might be right when we say that someone isn't trying hard enough or one player 'just wants it more' than another. Yet, for as much as we pick up on body language and the insiders tell us about what may be going on between games, do we really know?

Doubt it.

Say What?!?!: I knew cheerleaders were hardcore... well, except the ones I knew in high school (I kid, I kid). Yet, now, I have come to an important conclusion. Even though they're no joke athletically, they're just nuts. What a cheerleader does scares me more than the prospect of going man-to-man against Bruce Smith in his prime. Dead serious.
Speaking of regurgitation, another nugget from Newsweek- I wish I can give you an appropriate description to how much I HATE this phrase. I say appropriate because despite my colorful in-person language, I prefer to not dig in the nasty word thesaurus on Scribe, even if it is the Internet. So thank you, T.O., sports media, news media, the political arena and every working space in the United States for taking this phrase to such insightly levels.

No comments: