For many young men across the You Ess of Ae, playing football on the professional level is the creme de la creme de la vie. They love the sounds, the sights, and the smells of knocking the other guy down, stealing his ball, catching an uncatchable pass, and simply being a piece of an experience that few if any other aspect of existence could match.
Possibly with the exception of saving someone’s life (and not getting into any legal or ethical mess for having done so).
I was poking around at NFL.com and came across this summary about the Colorful Conclusion to the NFL’s rookie symposium. Playing competitive sports on this level isn’t just a test of one’s athletic talent, capabilities, and threshold for pain. If a teenaged baller exhibits remarkable skills, he’ll become, not surprisingly, the talk of the school district. Depending on the population of his hometown, he could be the brightest star in the region. Being recognized and praised by peers and neighbors is manageable.
Power that up to an exponent of three or five? It’s not going to be quite so manageable. Remember when your parents told you to be on your best behavior when you are in public because anything stupid, inconsiderate, and impolite gesture or statement you made would reflect badly upon them? Being a professional athlete for a celebrated team is similar. On or off the court or field, you are no longer representing just yourself. Matt Ryan may only technically and literally be the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons during practices, for special events, and on gameday, but whenever he is identified as the QB by a member of the community, he is not and cannot simply be Matt Ryan, graduate of Boston College and born under the sign of Taurus.
Therefore, anything that comes out of his mouth or emanates from his body language could easily be attributed to or associated with his team. Of course, most of us football fans and the general public would not be so daft as to think that Matt Ryan isn’t entitled to his own thoughts and opinions. Moreover, I believe that most fans would separate the actions of an individual player from that of his team.
Nevertheless, in that raised spotlight, intentions count for so very little. One has to be very careful with what one says, and as the article indicates, make nice with the media and press. One’s best friend, as a professional athlete, is the press. If the journalists and bloggers think you’re a no-good, lousy shard of horseshite, you’ll be hardpressed to receive their forgiveness for having said something that was taken out of context or of being photographed doing some kid-unfriendly things.*
*Excepting cases where you had no idea there was a camera and even if you knew, you most certainly would not have allowed any photographs be put on the interweb.