Written by in UncategorizedJune 18th, 2012
     Unless you’re delusional, you know that professional athletes are in a league of their own. Depending on what sport you’re thinking of, they will be stronger, faster, smarter at the sport, and so much more skilled both mentally and physically than you. But with all of this comes a great burden, one that most of us never see or have to deal with.
     Many of us talk about how amazing it would be to be in these athletes’ positions, to be as genetically gifted as LeBron James, as skilled as Aaron Rodgers, to have the killer instincts that Michael Jordan once had, to be able to hit the ball like the baseball greats. We talk about how easy it all would be, how – if we were getting paid like them – all we would do is train hard and play even hard. But what do we know?
     This has been a recurring topic for me, then one of my closest friends at school was drafted into the MLB, and I was exposed to how burdening it can all be.

Courtesy of nba.com

     As I’ve always dreamed of being able to play my favorite sport at the highest level, I’ve never stopped paying attention to professional sports and never stopped wondering how exhausting it would actually be. The media nowadays makes it so easy to follow all of these athletes, and with it, we are able to closely scrutinize their every move. A perfect example of this is LeBron James.
     So many people love to verbally abuse him, be it over social media or to friends, but how many of these people actually know enough about basketball and LeBron to be in a position to direct so much hatred towards him? I’ve never been a LeBron hater, but I’ve also never been a LeBron lover. I love the game of basketball, and I appreciate what he can do in games and what he does for the game. So I’ll admit this: the manner in which he handled his move from Cleveland to Miami was a terrible, terrible mistake. You must admit this though – no matter how he handled the situation, people would have criticized him, and Cleveland fans would have still been furious. I understand that it was the whole 1-hour special event on ESPN that really made him seem like an egomaniac, but come on, he was 25 at the time.
     LeBron was barely old enough to rent a car, and to be completely honest, if his inner-circle was smarter at handling the situation (especially his mother, who he is extremely close to) then he may have chosen another method of delivering his message. His father is an ex-convict who left his family, leaving his mother to raise LeBron on her own. He grew up without a father-figure, surrounding himself with a group of his close friends, and all of a sudden, he’s all over the sports world before even graduating high school. He didn’t go to college, which is where most people  begin to mature, had to give up his childhood, and had to handle the exhausting rigors of the NBA before he even turned 18. Most of us are freaking out about puppy-love relationships at that point, and he has to worry about his professional image to the entire world that is closely watching? I was terrified before every high school basketball game, volleyball showdown, water polo match, and every swimming meet. The pressure in the professional leagues is unimaginable. Not to even mention all the money that he has no idea on how to manage, with all those friends and family members calling to try and get a piece of the pie. Many of you will think that the money would only bring good and no troubles, but do you understand what that is like? I don’t. I’m sure that many of you don’t. You may talk about it, but until you’re in those shoes, you shouldn’t be so quick to call him out. Oh, and by the way, through all this adversity, he’s built himself a pretty strong brand through Nike.
     He is apparently a wonderful father to his two children, and he is going to marry his high school sweetheart. If you didn’t know anything about basketball, you would probably think he’s a pretty good guy.

Courtesy of cecilbuffington.com

(Warning: TANGENT – Let me ask you, how many people do you know love to  criticize LeBron? And how many of those people are “qualified” to do so? So you’ve  been a Bulls fan since D-Rose joined. So you know who Kevin Durant is. That’s  great and all, but how many of you started watching basketball when you barely  understood a word of English?  How many of you know who Pete Maravich and  Elvin Hayes are? How many of you know about Bernard King? I’m naming big  names here, and you may have heard of them, but do you know who they played for  or what positions they even played? Do you understand the proper rules? Can you  even name all the teams in the NBA and most of their players and know how their  stars like to play, if they like to go right and pull-up for an elbow jumper or cross- over from right-to-left? Honestly, if you’re just watching for the fun of it and don’t  know that much about the NBA, sit back, appreciate the game and have fun,  instead of ripping someone apart because they argued one foul call, or hating  someone because everyone else seems to.)

     Imagine being a player of LeBron’s caliber, someone blessed with unbelievable genetics, and knowing that you are constantly under the microscope. Knowing that if you don’t work to be the best every single day, day-in and day-out, then you might slip? He’s had to deal with that at an age where most of us haven’t started worrying about anything of real importance. He has to bring his A-game consistently and if he has a single off-night (which you should know happens a lot in basketball), then it is suddenly the most hotly-debated topic in the sports world (annoyingly so). “No ring”, “not clutch”, “receding hairline”. Imagine constantly getting and feeling the pressure and abuse, and still delivering games like his Game 6 against the Boston Celtics (sorry Celtics fans, your team played great though). Most people would crumble under even a quarter of the pressure that he is constantly feeling.
     The sad part is, some do. Some simply don’t know how to handle it, and you always see athletes let their talents go to waste. Zach Randolph almost did this, and Eddy Curry did (may win a ring yet with Miami). Athletes who got a big payday, went under the microscope and all of a sudden, couldn’t perform at the same level because of mental pressure and many times, because they put on weight and basically let themselves go to waste. Every time I saw something like this, it would anger me because I would think of how lucky they were to have the chance to even be in that position, but what do we really know? You have to constantly be away from your family and home, and always be pushing yourself mentally and physically to the breaking point. And those are the “lucky ones” (please no references to the cheesy Zac Efron movie). The unlucky ones are the players who go into the developmental leagues, who get a second job or struggle to survive, and still have to constantly work and prove that they belong there, or at any point if time if there’s a better player available, see ya later buddy. Can you imagine what it would be like, especially if you didn’t have something to fall back on?
     Professional athletes in the NBA, MLB, NFL, EPL, and other leagues where people dream of playing are gifted with the athletic abilities to perform at extraordinarily high levels, but what you may never see is what happens in the background. All the sweat they shed to get to where they are now, what they had to give up in order to get where they are. Many crumble before even getting there, but can we all stop hating athletes for no reason? In many cases, they will put in more work per week than some of us will. It’s their job, and we may have different jobs, some easier and some harder than theirs, but who’s to judge? Do you get the same amount of pressure that they do? Are the same levels of expectations placed on you by so many people? It’s too easy to forget, and so I hope I’ve helped to remind you of it. They may have great gifts, but they also have great burdens.     So go out and enjoy yourselves in your chosen sports. Unless you’re trying to be a professional athlete (in which case, best of luck to you), you really don’t have that much pressure on you.

Written by NG lover and competitive eating champ, Morgan Chang.

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