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Sports’ Role Models

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I think the role of sports in society is misunderstood. At their basic level, they probably serve as an outlet for feelings that would otherwise be reserved for defense, warfare, & conquest in times gone by. In this mode of thought, people get caught up in the “us vs. them” attitude. It’s easy to attribute success to your own doing, but often people put the blame on the opponent when defeat comes about. Everything that went wrong is “their” fault.

It’s in this moment that the true winners show themselves, and in so doing convey the real meaning of sport; it’s not about competing against anyone or anything else, it’s about competing against yourself and constantly finding ways to get better. Winners always put the blame on their own shoulders even if there were genuine factors beyond their control that didn’t play to their favor. Why? A winner is somebody who’s empowered and in control. In fact, they’re so in control that they can (and do) account for the most miniscule of flaws. Even when things go wrong, taking the blame keeps you in as much control of your own fate as possible. When you blame people and things outside of you, you also remove your power over the outcome in the future. Essentially, you make yourself the victim. Victims are powerless.

Sport serves as a great metaphor for life and it’s not surprising that many great athletes share a lot of traits with successful people in the world of business & social spheres as well. I want to present a few names that serve as role models for me and I think give an example for everyone willing to pay attention.

Jerry Rice
As far as I’m concerned, he could still play professionally (and he could probably still burn some of the current all-pro DBs). Unfortunately, I only got old enough to appreciate football towards the tail-end of his career, but what a career it was. Twenty years as a starting wide receiver in the NFL is a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself, but the fact that he was able to play at such a high level for all those years makes it all the more impressive. He holds essentially every receiving record that matters and most of them will probably never be broken. He was recently voted as the greatest football player of all time at any position. Rice’s success was defined by his work ethic, instilled on his family farm in Mississippi catching bricks. He was described by his teammates as the first to arrive and the last to leave, attending meetings for sections of the team that he wasn’t a part of just to show support for his fellow players. Even in retirement, he still runs the same 2.5 mile hill that he ran in his heyday during the ’80s and ’90s. I will be first to admit to “never say never, ” but I have a hard time believing that there will ever be another player like Jerry Rice.

Michael Jordan
I didn’t follow basketball while he played, but as a kid growing up in the ’90s, it was pretty hard to not have some inkling of MJ. After being exposed to more of his story, I really came to appreciate the impact he left not only on his game, but also on the world around him. After being drafted and acquiring the initial pieces of what would become their dynasty, the Bulls ran into a road block against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoffs for 3 straight years. A breakthrough took place in the ’91 season when the team won it’s first of 6 NBA championships in the 1990s. As talented as Michael was, he always deferred to his weaknesses to make himself even better. He always wanted to play against the best players of his generation to test himself and reveal opportunities for personal growth. Michael didn’t make excuses and he had more than his share of clutch moments in his career (the one I’ll remember most was his game winner against the Jazz in game 6 of the ’98 finals).

Ricky Carmichael
At 5’4″ and 155lbs., Ricky Carmichael had to have his suspension adjusted just so he could put his feet on the ground, but it didn’t stop him from becoming the most decorated rider in motocross history. He was a talented 125cc rider, but he fell into the pool of average riders upon his move to the 250cc class. During a time when supercross icon Jeremy McGrath was dominating race after race, it seemed the best anyone else could do was 2nd place. RC knew he wasn’t the fastest or the best, but he put the cards in his favor when he began training for racing. In so doing, he brought athletic legitimacy to the sport and set the model for a whole new generation of riders. 2001 was his breakthrough year, winning both the AMA Supercross and Outdoor National Championships, as well as leading Team USA to their first win at the MX des Nations since ’96. Many, including myself, thought his dominance would end when a young James Stewart entered the 250cc class in 2005, and it was apparent that whether or not he won the race, James was the fastest guy on the track. Like a true champion, RC outworked all of his competition and stepped his game up even further than what it was before, eventually retiring with over 150 wins to his credit. After 2001, he was never beaten for a championship that he competed in and he’s now known as the G.O.A.T. in the world of motocross.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Say what you will about his abilities as an actor, a politician, or a husband (personally, I don’t think he was good at any of them), but in the world of strength sports, Arnold is a legend, and you can’t deny the popularity he garnered during his acting career. Yes, he was a bodybuilder, but he was also one of the strongest guys of his generation. The work ethic he brought to the gym is still revered in books, magazines, TV shows, and around the internet. Yeah, he took steroids, but that doesn’t negate all the work he put in or the attitude he had in doing it. His quotes can often sound egotistical to people who don’t understand him or his mindset, but for people looking to become the best at something, his words resonate with the drive and determination it takes to reach the pinnacle of greatness.

Lance Armstrong
My interest in cycling didn’t develop until after Lance’s retirement in 2005 (although I did get to watch him compete in ’09 & ’10 during his comeback). Still, his unparalleled success in the sport was very hard to ignore, especially during the years he was cleaning up on the roads of France. While Lance has recently been called into question for use of performance enhancing drugs, his legacy will remain intact for everybody who saw him ride or competed against him in the saddle. Personally, I think he probably did use something, but so did everyone he was competing against. I’ve discussed my opinion surrounding the issue of steroids previously, and I hold the same thoughts here. Lance still busted his ass to get where he was, and that type of commitment & discipline is admirable by any standard. Moreover, the odds he battled against so he could do what he loved is a testament to the resolve we are capable of.

Travis Pastrana
Travis is one of the most naturally talented people on the planet. He made a name for himself on a dirtbike, but he’s found success in most every endeavor he’s tried. More than that, the guy has gotten to do pretty much everything he’s ever wanted to do. If there’s one person who will leave this world with no regrets, it’s Travis. His ability to look outside the box propelled freestyle motocross from a sideshow to primetime television. The best thing he brought out was his nature. In everything he’s done, whether he was successful or not, Travis has had fun doing it. This doesn’t mean everything is pleasurable, but an experience is always going to be better for you and everyone else if you’re happy and doing your best. Travis does that better than anybody.

Each of these individuals has left an enduring impact on the world we live in. Learn from their example, and chase your dreams. Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.

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