I was a junior in high school when the movie A League of Their Own came out. (Still my favorite movie.) It just so happened that the main character was a catcher (and not a stubby-looking one either), who wore #8, batted clean-up, and led her championship team in home runs. Well, at the time, I happened to be a catcher who was tall and thin (I HATED the catcher stereotype, and resented when people told me I didn't look like a catcher), I had been wearing #8 all my life, and I was batting .462 in the clean-up spot, leading our team in home runs too. Oh, and our team won our conference championship, though we we lost the division title in the second round of play-offs. What a great year. So, needless to say, during that season, I ate, drank, and slept softball. At a time when I should have been considering what the rest of my life would be like, I could only think baseball. (Time not playing was spent watching/listening on the radio to coverage of my beloved Philadelphia Phillies, 2 years before another World Series appearance.)
Even though that was many years ago, not too much has changed in professional athletics. The more I follow sports, the more my empathetic heart bleeds for some of those guys. You might be thinking, "How can you feel bad for multi-millionaires?"
Life is about more than money, as I'm sure you know. And although these guys (yes, I am focusing on the male-dominated athletics) get to play for a living, there are many drawbacks that make me quite happy with the life I live in front of my computer. Here's why:
I don't do well with pressure. Actually, I kind of used to perform well when there was the added pressure of two strikes, two outs, a runner coming home, or a play-off game. But I never liked it (except the tag out at the plate. Always loved that). Every bus ride to away games would churn the acid in my stomach that much more. This was for games that had just a handful of spectators. Most fans just read the paper, where poor performances could possibly hide. Not having a job in the spotlight saves my stomach the many ulcers it could have had.
You can't make mistakes when you are a professional. Even though you should be allowed, since we are all usually allowed to err once or twice in our human jobs, people often use the excuse that these guys are paid to be perfect. Yikes. Go back to #1 to see how I feel about that pressure. Every flaw in your performance is seen by thousands or even millions of people. These flaws are often cursed using language you yourself might not even use, and then shown over and over on ESPN to the commentary of some really funny jokesters.
3. Other Players
First of all, everyone else in the league is pretty much as good as you are. People may complain that a certain player stinks, but really. If you are good enough to make the pros, you are better than most other people complaining about your performance. The best batting average in the MLB this year was .338. The worst (non-pitcher) was .210. Not a huge difference. That first guy got a hit a little more than 3 out of 10 times, while the other guy was just over 2 out of 10 times. Minuscule difference there.
And you are all playing for a job. Nothing more. No one else is on your side, because they want your job. Or they need to make themselves look better by making you look like a fool. Even your teammates, if it comes down to one or the other of you, will not sacrifice his job for you. It's nothing personal, just business as usual in sports.
Much like a drill sergeant, your boss's job is to yell at you. His job is on the line if you perform poorly. (I guess that's true everywhere.) But coaches yell more. I'm sure some people respond to that pretty well, but I'm not a fan of angry bosses. Of course, you answer to other "bosses" as well, including the fans. That's another tough crowd. See below.
I'm a Philly fan. I know what we're like. I am not sure if anyone else in the country is worse than we are. (Please don't bring up Santa Claus, though. That was before my time.) But we are a city frustrated with loss. With the exception of one World Series in 2008, we have not won a sports championship in more than 20 years. The buildup of disappointment is not the fault of the current players - they only get the outpouring of it from the fans. We have about zero patience for anything but perfection. (How are we even called fans, anyway?) Regardless, fans can be severe critics and people who think they know your job better than you do. Oh, and there are probably a million of them. That's a loud "boo" when you make that mistake.
Oh, I know, all this criticism is supposed to make you strive harder to make them cheer. I'm sure that works for some, but not me. The boos feel louder to me than the yeas.
Military wives have it the worst, I think. But it can't be easy for the wives of professional athletes, when your husband is away for about 6 months out of the year, every year. Even in the offseason, there are events to attend. It's never a dull life, which is exactly how some people like it! But if you are someone who thrives on consistency, professional athletics is not for you.
Yes, this is on my list of why I WOULDN'T want this job. First of all, if I am doing something where I would be making the money some of these athletes make, I would feel guilty if I weren't perfect at it. (And remember what I said about no one being perfect!) That might just be a girl thing, though. I don't think a lot of guys have that problem. But seriously, you make a lot of money over the course of your career - which may only be 10 years - and then you don't exactly have a pension. Also consider that there IS no exact time frame of your job. The average NFL player's job-span is 3.3 years. I'm sure most expect it to be longer. That can throw off your budget when you lose 7 years or so of income.
And the problem is, athletes start young and are not known for wisdom in financial planning. People who grow their fortunes watch it grow over time. I think there is more appreciation there. But, athletes signing their first big deal get it all at once. Lots of money to start, lots of money to blow. Have you seen the number of professional athletes who are broke in their 40s? Not that this speaks of all athletes, but managing that money for a rest-of-your-life income would certainly take some planning.
Is there any professional athlete, except for golfers, who has not been seriously hurt at one point or another? It's part of the game. You know that research is showing that some of these injuries are more serious than they used to appear. Many athletes wind up ending their careers early due to injuries. What's worse are those who don't stop when they should, play through pain that they shouldn't, and then can't repair the damage they've done to their bodies. I plan to be a little old lady, still going out for a run when I'm 80. Not many athletes can do that without some serious surgery. That leads us to the next point...
Early retirement may be another "perk" of professional athletics, but in what condition? (Except for golf, which you actually can start when you retire.) Doesn't it sound ideal to "settle down" at 40, having a complete career behind you? Sure, but there is always concern for the damage done to your body. Once you have been playing at a high level, it's likely hard to back up and take it easy. But considering most athletes retire because their body either can't take it anymore, or they just aren't as good as they used to be, it must be sad to have to give up and call yourself old.
You have to be "hungry" to play at a professional level. (Unless you're a golfer who is not named Happy Gilmore.) I can be competitive. I AM competitive. But when you are a professional, you have to take that competition to the next level, and feel it all the time. This will affect your physiology. When your body has to constantly secrete testosterone, it's hard to keep your emotions in check. You become impatient and easily frustrated in your daily life. Many athletes may have this under control, but I'm guessing it isn't easy and needs to be paid attention to. Those athletes involved in domestic abuse? I do not condone it one bit, but I can understand how it happens. I don't want to live an angry life.
So, what have we learned from this discussion? It takes a special person to be a professional athlete. You need to be able to control your body, emotions, and finances. It's a lot tougher than it seems. I have a real respect for those you can do it on all levels.
Also, golf is not a real athletic sport. ;)
Because I love even numbers and lists!