It happened about a week ago. I was walking to the subway after work when I spotted a former co-worker coming toward me on the sidewalk. I was friendly with this person when we worked together. We went out for drinks a couple of times. We liked/hated the same people around the office. We shared common stories about our past. We got along well. So, of course, upon seeing this person walking in my general direction, I crossed the street at the first opportunity presented to me in order to avoid any and all contact.
Of all the luxuries afforded professional athletes, the time-honored tradition of dodging former co-workers is rendered almost impossible by the close-knit world of highly competitive sports. Pro sports leagues are small ponds full of the most elite fish in the world, most of whom have grown up together from the time that they were guppies, participating in the same activities designed for elite performers. By the time they reach their peak, their pool has been decided with only the smallest portion of annual restocking and retirement.
Athletes are bound to come across former teammates from time to time and be expected to compete against them. This, much like our own exchanges with those to whom we were once forced to associate, can be difficult. Unfortunately for professional athletes, there aren’t any streets to cross or stores to duck into as a means of avoiding a former colleague on their respective fields of play. Instead, awkward confrontations are inevitable.
Here are a number of simple steps athletes can take to keep awkwardness at a minimum, and spin a potentially negative situation into a positive outcome.
English rock band Radiohead released “Creep” as their debut single in 1992, and it later appeared on their first album, Pablo Honey, in 1993. Much like Lance Armstrong’s early cycling career, “Creep” wasn’t an immediate success. However, after its re-release in 1993, the song became a hit, similar to Armstrong’s accomplishments following his return to cycling after beating cancer.
The lyrics to the song represent an inebriated man who tries to get the attention of a woman to whom he is attracted by following her around. Unfortunately, he lacks the self-confidence necessary to actually speak to her face-to-face. It’s about the duality of the modern heterosexual man who feels an urge to assert himself sexually, but recognizes that doing so is fraught with insensitivities and misogynist tendencies.
In the case of Armstrong, the woman in the song is similar to his desire to win. Unable to attain such a result naturally, he cheats instead of creeps. Interestingly enough, cheating isn’t something all together unfamiliar to Radiohead either. Due to similarities between “Creep” and “The Air That I Breathe,” a song recorded by The Hollies in 1973, Radiohead was successfully sued for plagiarism by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, who are now listed as the song’s co-writers.
After acting in a vehemently litigious manner for several years against anyone who accused the cycling star of cheating, it’s expected that Armstrong will face a litany of lawsuits following his confession from those whose credibility he previously trampled.
Shannon Sharpe of CBS Sports was shocked and appalled that New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick would dare to avoid his network’s sideline reporters following the team’s AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
There’s something to be said about being gracious in defeat. We’ve seen the New England Patriots five times in the last 12 years be victorious [in the AFC championship game). We've seen the opposing coaches who lost come out and talk to our Steve Tasker. Coach [Bill] Cowher did it when they lost to them, we saw this last week. Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It’s unacceptable.
Sharpe’s comments might have carried more weight if even a single viewer of Sunday evening’s NFL coverage noticed that Belichick wasn’t interviewed. Or if, for once – just once – something of any interest to anyone was to be asked of a head coach following a football game. Instead, Belichick revealed himself to be one of the 7 billion people on earth who don’t enjoy talking about their failures, and for this Sharpe, in the parlance of our times, called him out.
It took me a long time to learn how to ride a bicycle. So long in fact that it was only out of embarrassment, not necessity, that my training wheels were removed. Because of this mechanical amputation, I wasn’t easily lulled into what I believed to be the false sense of stability that other children embraced in two wheels. I would get going on my bicycle, and then like the boy trying to drink a glass of milk in My Life As A Dog, I would become acutely aware of what most would take for granted. I would grow nervous at how unnatural it seemed. I would wobble. I would crash. I would lose my balance.
Balance is a fascinating word. It can refer to both the abstract and the concrete, but no matter what’s being balanced – a bankbook, your diet, or your body – we understand that an effort is underway
to ensure equilibrium. Just as I struggled as a youngster to keep my bicycle from teetering too far right or too far left, I’ve throughout my life to find an improved balance between cynicism and naivety.
I’m more prone to falling on the cynical side, but there are elements in my life to which I choose to remain naive. For many years, I believed in Lance Armstrong. In fact, my defense of the cyclist was so ardent as to diverge from several personal principles to which I ascribe. In this sense, Armstrong made me a hypocrite who speaks and writes of open-minded analysis, and yet remained closed to the idea that a personal hero in his sport and outside of it might be something more (and also less, definitely less) than the construct of him that I had created.
If we are to be judged, it’s likely best that we’re judged by the decisions that we make. However, some people’s decisions, and the process by which they make them, are a little more accessible than others. So, it makes sense that the decisions that these unfortunate people make receive a greater amount of scrutiny than what is typical.
The Toronto Maple Leafs fired General Manager Brian Burke this past week, and while the termination likely has to do with factors beyond the decisions that the head of the team made during his tenure in charge, such matters were only hinted at during a press conference on Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. There was a moment during the question and answer period though where it appeared as though Burke’s manicured and restrained response to his dismissal might break down. It came on a question from Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV. He asked, “How disappointing is it that you’re not going to be able to stay here and finish the job.”
Burke started with a stock answer, “Well, I think. I think you can make the case …” He paused. Looked away. Looked back at the reporter. “I think I can make the case that ….” Pause. He looked down. Silence. It promised to be a President Bartlett moment, but then, gathered and collected, he resumed, “I think that’s a case that I’ll let the media make.”
There was little doubt that in this moment, Burke’s honesty was being kept in check by either a sense of honor or desire to find another job. Both motivators would play a role in causing one to carefully consider one’s actions. He decided on the restrained approach. Moments later, Burke’s path along the high road took a slight detour.