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May 24, 2013 at 3:05 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Life Sucks: Get a Helmet, Behave Yourself, Make Millions

By Kyle McCarthy from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Culturology Blog Series

"The heart was made to be broken." - Oscar Wilde

"Those who make real money aren't counted as criminals. This is a class distinction, not an ethical problem."

Better to Have Loved and Lost?

On the way to work yesterday morning, the talking heads on the sports talk show I was listening to were lamenting the recent poor performance of the Detroit Tigers' ace pitcher Justin Verlander. After back-to-back spectacular seasons in which he seemed destined by the gods of sport to completely rewrite the record books, Verlander has struggled so far in 2013. Rather than point to the more practical reasons for his difficulties (e.g. decreased velocity, erratic command of his off-speed pitches, struggle maintaining a consistent arm angle), the morons on 107.3 were focusing on the dissolution of his brief relationship with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model, Kate Upton. While Uplander never publicly discussed their relationship, or even admitted to having one at all, it was one of the worst kept secrets in our tabloid-obsessed society. Then, just as suddenly as their romance bloomed, it withered and died - as romances are wont to do.

People often don't give the mental aspect of sports enough credit; it takes a lot of cerebral fortitude to reach the lofty heights of professional athletics.

Breakups are rough; there's no doubt about it. There's a lot of investment that occurs in any relationship, so when they sour, it can feel as if the overflowing bank vault that was once your heart is now emotionally insolvent, which is when the panic sets in. That said, we're all grown-ups here, so to blame sub-par work performance on off the field issues is not just a cop-out, it's a dereliction of professionalism, which is a dereliction of adulthood.

Although it's never easy to keep it all together when someone you care about is no longer part of your life, after the tears, the mounting sick days, the dozens of ignored voicemails, the hunger-strike, and the requisite hour spent on the uncomfortable couch being interrogated by a shrink, there comes a time when you have to pick up the pieces and move on. Why, then, are we even considering the idea that a professional athlete who takes his craft as seriously as Justin Verlander is struggling to locate his fastball because Kate Upton broke his heart 6 months ago? How significantly can a breakup interfere with the average person's work performance, much less that of a world-class athlete? Which then points to a larger question: How is it that these titans of athletic competition, making untold millions, are so prone to letting off-field distractions disrupt their careers?


The most famous instance of an athlete allowing his personal life spill over into his performance is, of course, Tiger Woods. Before he decided to bed every Hooters waitress along the eastern seaboard, Tiger was well on his way to being the most dominant golfer in the history of the game, maybe the most dominant athlete in the history of sports altogether. Prior to November 27th, 2009, Tiger had been ranked the number one player in the world for roughly a decade and had already won 4 Masters Championships and 3 U.S. Opens.

Then, his wife may or may not have went upside his head repeatedly with a sand wedge after Tiger's harem was finally exposed. Tiger receded into a suspicious seclusion, taking five months away from golf and entering a 45-day treatment facility - to treat what exactly, we don't know? Sex addiction? Substance abuse? Faciocranial scarring? We're still not sure, but we're all fully aware that Tiger Woods went from the greatest golfer in the world to just another dude on the PGA Tour. This happened immediately after "he crashed his SUV" and lasted until just a few months ago - almost four years of mediocrity from the best.

So what's the lesson here (other than don't engage in casual sex with dozens of women that aren't Elin Nordgren)? Whether it seems logical or not, the extracurricular activities of athletes have a direct impact on their performance. People often don't give the mental aspect of sports enough credit; it takes a lot of cerebral fortitude to reach the lofty heights of professional athletics. Most of these men and women have been groomed their entire lives to dominate the gridiron, the hardwood, the links, the clay, or the ice, and most of their identities are wrapped up in their physical skill. Then, once they reach the pinnacle of their craft, they may have a tendency to become complacent, allowing the trappings of fame and everything that goes along with it to influence their athletic execution.

Livin' La Vida Thug

A few examples: Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a crowded nightclub in New York City; Michael Vick ran an illegal dog fighting operation out of his backyard; Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape... twice; Rae Carruth tried to have his pregnant wife murdered; Floyd Mayweather seemingly cannot stop hitting women more often than he does his actual opponents; Lance Armstrong became incapable of telling the truth for over a decade. Sure, some of these athletes are still successful, but this may actually point to a deeper degree of derangement if they are. It seems slightly inhuman to be plotting to kill your wife one minute and carving out a defense for 8 catches, 115 yards, and a touchdown the next. I know this may seem unfair - a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of scenario, but if these guys could just collect their enormous sums of money and get to work, this conversation wouldn't be necessary in the first place.

I make a little less than Mr. Verlander, but I'll still be at work on Monday, despite the fact that Ms. Upton isn't in love with me. Why should I expect anything less from a man who is paid  to throw change-ups for 2 hours a week?

The short list above barely scratches the surface of the literally thousands of professional athletes who were so convinced of their on-field superiority that they just assumed that they could behave in anyway they sought fit. Bear in mind, Ricky Williams once walked away from tens of millions of dollars in the NFL because he was more concerned with smoking pot than taking hand-offs (this may not be completely accurate, but perception is everything). After two years, a civil suit filed by the Miami Dolphins, and a trip down bankruptcy lane, Ricky was able to put aside the pipe for a few more years and reenter the league to pay off his debts and stash away a hefty marijuana escrow account. The question is, why couldn't he just do that in the first place? The world didn't owe Ricky anything, but being "the man" for most of his life made him forget this basic fact of life.

Extra Innings

Here's the deal: Justin Verlander is not a criminal, but he did recently rob the Tigers blind. A few months ago, he signed a new contract, making him the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball at around $26 million per year. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a 2, a 6, and then six zeroes tacked on the end (slightly more than what Poseidon would charge if he were Admiral of the Navy). It doesn't matter how attractive Kate Upton is or how deeply she may have broken Justin's 30-year-old heart, that kind of money should produce results.

I make a little less than Mr. Verlander, but I'll still be at work on Monday, despite the fact that Ms. Upton isn't in love with me. Why should I expect anything less from a man who is paid  to throw change-ups for 2 hours a week?

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  • I absolutely love the pull quote!

  • The last pull quote that is.

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