Antonio Brown x Alex Rodriguez
I went to a football game this past weekend.
This week, I’ll tell you about it through 5 stories.
Today is Antonio Brown x Alex Rodriguez – “A story of the struggles of sports.”
The Praise of Being a Professional Athlete Prospect
To get this off at the beginning, I do not personally understand the pressure of being a professional athlete. I have not personally had to deal with the pressure of being an amateur/college athlete. Heck, even when I played on my high school soccer teams (NJ state champions, btw!), there really was not that much pressure on me as a 2nd team player. However, I can and have observed how players at all levels act inside and outside of the sporting arenas. I will not attempt to evaluate, psychoanalyze, or attempt to project emotions/feelings/etc. on the players I discuss today. Instead, I am using them- prominent players with talent at the tops of their respective sports- to showcase how hard it is to be a professional athlete.
Now that we have that out of the way, try to imagine this:
You’re first growing up and playing for your town recreation leagues in various sports. During each season, coaches from other teams always talk to your coaches about your abilities. You hear buzz-words like “travel ball” and “tournaments” thrown around often in the conversations. You start to notice that you’re playing a more fundamental version of your sport than your peers. You start to really take notice that you’re faster, and stronger, and better than those around you.
You go to school and during recess you’re almost always selected first, if you were not already selected as a team captain. Your gym teacher almost always has you demonstrate your abilities to your classmates when learning something new. It’s clear everybody around you- even from the elementary ages- knows of your sporting abilities. Soon enough, you’re playing travel ball and you’re the starting shortstop/quarterback/striker/point guard/etc. Now coaches from other leagues, other counties, and other states are starting to take notice of your abilities. You may even be moved up age levels in order to better test your sporting abilities.
You try out for your middle school teams and obviously make the team. The local high school coaches come by and are already inviting you to come to their practices on your off-days. Soon enough, college scouts and coaches are coming by your games. Once you make it to high school, you’re already playing, if not starting, for your varsity team your freshman year. You’ve been given a scholarship offer to a Division-I school, your dream school, to play for them. You’re able to date the prettiest girl in your grade, your teachers are relaxed on your handing in papers/projects because you’re the star player.
All of that and you’ve yet to really prove anything. All of this by the time you’re maybe 16 years old. You’ve had the world handed to you on a silver platter. Truly try to put yourself into that idea and think about this:
How big would your ego be?
This is not, “do you have an ego?”. This is not, “how do you stay humble?”. At that point, you’d have an ego. We all would- regardless of if you want to admit it to yourself or not. Naturally, most- if not all- of us strive to find something we’re naturally good at so that we can think about how good we are at that thing. We do this so we can think about how much better we are at our thing over the guy sitting next to us in the classroom, or across from us on the train, or while at the gym. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have an ego. It gives us motivation in ourselves. It gives us something to always strive to improve. The issue is when an ego gets to large to handle.
If you were that kid in our example above, it’s hard to keep that ego in check. Especially because professional athletes only get more and more praise as they continue on into college and the professional sporting world.
The Pressure of Being a Professional Athlete
However, that praise at the higher levels is also met with a lot more focus from the media, from the fans, and from teammates on each athlete. It is met with professional writers detailing every move of an athlete from the practice field to gameday. This pressure doesn’t ever really stop either. It is met with more and more pressure the better the player becomes. It is met with more and more scrutiny when a player makes a mistake, or doesn’t come through for their team, or has a bad day.
I can only imagine that in a tight situation. It must feel like the entire world is on their shoulders. They can’t mess up, they have to do everything perfectly, as any slight problem will be talked about in the post-game conferences and on talk radio for the next day to week.
Think of if in your job at the end of every day, the HR department would send around a memo to everybody else in your company to read about your work, your work ethic, where you messed up, what you could’ve done better. It sounds like insanity, but this is the reality for a professional athlete. Now, they are compensated better than most so it is likely worth it, but it is fair to say that the pressures are also much more than most of us face too. (The median US yearly salary is about $93,000 a year. In the MLB, the minimum contract is more than 6-times that rate, in the NFL that moves to over 7-times that rate, and in the NBA it goes to about 9.5-times that rate.)
So, now that we have this basis, let’s consider my story from Sunday.
Antics On and Off the Field
During this past Sunday’s football game that I went to between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, late into the 3rd quarter, Wide Receiver Antonio Brown had a moment. In the stands, I did not understand what was going on. Truthfully, I thought what they were showing on the jumbotron was a pregame celebration with the fans: throwing his shirt and gloves into the stands before going to the locker room. It didn’t make sense, but logically how was I supposed to figure somebody would do that during a game? It was only until after the game that I heard Head Coach Bruce Arians say “He’s not a Buc” during the Jets postgame show on the radio, and I pieced everything together. (Reports are out now that Brown had experienced an ankle injury and did not want to continue playing to not risk further injury. Before he left the field, HC Arians was telling him to get on the field or get out.)
Antonio Brown is not without his fair share of other on-the-field or off-the-field controversies. In his brief 15-games over 2 years with the Bucs alone he was dealing with a sexual assault situation, he got into a fight with a Titans player during a joint practice, and he was suspended for a fake COVID vaccination card.
And, who does it get me thinking about?
Think about some of the things A-Rod did during his time with the Yankees that was met with a ton of ire:
Not to mention the constant drama with Derek Jeter, the PED usage and suspensions, the lawsuit against the MLB, Commissioner’s Office and MLBPA…the list goes on and on.
Both Antonio Brown and Alex Rodriguez are athletes who were- for long periods of time- the best in their sport at their positions. There was no better shortstop in the MLB than A-Rod while he was a Seattle Mariner. There was no better wide receiver in the NFL than AB while he was a Pittsburgh Steeler.
What Comes of This
It’s fair to criticize Antonio Brown for what he has done. It was and is still fair to criticize Alex Rodriguez for what he did. It comes with the territory of being a superstar athlete who is constantly making themselves a feature in the news.
However, the important thing is also to allow those players to have a shot at redemption. We’ve seen that with Alex Rodriguez in his post-playing career. He’s taken on to being a broadcaster for Fox Sports and ESPN, was a guest judge on Shark Tank, and has been able to step away from the media limelight. Now, this also comes with no longer being a professional athlete: you’re no longer put under the spotlight day-in and day-out from your sport. For the most part, A-Rod has handled his post-career life very well and has been able to earn redemption from his antics.
Tom Brady said it best after the game on Sunday. Antonio Brown needs people now to show him empathy, for the people close to him to show him help and care. I cannot imagine the pressure that the fans, the media, his coaches and team, and he himself puts on his performance. I can only hope that he gets better and finds his way to his own redemption.