Tuesday, June 2, 2009


In team sports, one of the most hallowed clichés is that it’s not about the name on the back; it’s about the name on the front. Maybe ‘cliché’ isn’t the right term; more like a philosophy born from a section of fans who derided certain athletes for a physical and showy display of emotion after a play or for bolting a team via free agency or making a comment in the media guaranteed to become talk show fodder for the next day.

Yet the problem with this ideology is that whether we publically admit it or not, playing in a team demands so much from the individual, regardless of success.

It’s something we all do every day, no matter how genuinely altruistic or selfish we are.

This isn’t because deep down, we are all self-serving individuals who only want to excel over the next (wo)man, regardless of consequences. This is because the moment we wake up, how we help or harm one another affects how we perform in our relationships and occupations. It affects how we make a better life for those we care about and who care for us in return.

Yet, this ‘team on the front’ philosophy is constantly thrown out the window as we purchase more Peyton Manning jerseys than those of Jeff Saturday or spend the afternoon debating the merits of LeBron James’ lack of post-series handshakes after the loss to Orlando last weekend. We’re consumed with the singular superstar, the up-and-coming talent and the lightning rods for controversy and criticism.

Of course, while we outsiders can be hypocritical when it comes to the ‘team above all’ idea, those players are consumed with the individual in a manner that sports fans often grow angry about. They are focused on not only putting forth a maximum effort to win, but to put an effort to provide for those who supported them throughout a lifetime of hard work (most definitely with some coddling, in many cases) and having to prove his or her worth to a team at every stage they can reach.

Certainly, most of these folks care about their teammates and embody the team spirit that makes franchises like the Detroit Red Wings, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Steelers or the San Antonio Spurs perennially successful. Even for mediocre and moribund organizations trying to turn things around in New York (Knicks), Arlington (Texas Rangers), San Francisco (49ers) or Toronto (Maple Leafs), camaraderie grows as each person must buy into a new, but uncertain path to winning. However, team sports require a collection of individuals to do whatever it takes to show up on game day, no matter how many titles or how many losing seasons are piled up.

Off the field, these sports figures deal with much of the same realities that the rest of us face. From health scares and loss of family members to those times where someone close just can’t get his or her head straight, there’s a ton that takes place at home that can take a toll on the most supremely conditioned athlete. For some, those trials and tribulations that don’t show up on the box score can be the ultimate guiding light to play every game, speak at every press conference and hustle in every practice. Just because someone plays for a team, it doesn’t mean that (s)he isn’t playing for someone else.

I say this because today, as every day for the past eight years, I am reminded of why I do this. I enjoy Scribe and I’ve enjoyed the professional experiences that have allowed me to hone a still-improving craft and cultivate an ever-expanding knowledge base. Yet, as all of us who go to work, look for work, hit the books or entertain a crowd, the greater motivation in our lives is that very last name on the back. Or in my case, the last name on the byline.

My family’s surname. My father’s last name.

Until I see you again, Bobby.

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