Life changes in an instant.
In professional sports, this statement cannot be any truer. Careers can take off or fade away in a matter of moments. They blossom and die sometimes instantaneously.
Think of Jeremy Lin. “Linsanity” in 2012 made the Harvard graduate go from sleeping on couches to four different teams and large paydays from each, including most recently a three-year, $36 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
Then think of Brandon Roy. An all-star for the Portland Trail Blazers, his career was cut short by injuries, ultimately forcing him to retire early in 2011 and then for good in 2013 after a degenerative knee condition started to take a toll.
This causes one to think of how seriously a career is taken, or how for granted one is taken. There is either stardom that comes from almost nothing other than performing well in the right moment, or creating your legacy by making crucial business and life decisions.
Many college basketball stars must decide whether to go pro before they graduate, no matter the sport. It is most commonly seen in football and basketball. In basketball, the decision is usually made after a player’s freshman year. Do they use their young age and raw ability to try and earn a high draft pick and get key exposure at an early time in their life, or wait another year and possibly risk injury or having even younger players catch up to them? In football, it is in some cases the opposite. Do student-athletes depend on their athletic skill and physical prowess to hopefully skyrocket them in the NFL draft, or do they wait another year to polish their skills and earn immediate playing time on a contending team? The dichotomy between the mentality of “should I stay or should I go” is perhaps one of the biggest deciding factors in having a career change so quickly.
Take Johnny Manziel for instance. A Heisman winner as a freshman who slightly fizzled his second year at Texas A&M, he was destined to be the “next big thing” in football. A first-round selection, he was poised to be the Cleveland Browns’ saving grace. However, a tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol has pulled him away from the game of football, and has turned him into a bust not more than two years into his professional career.
This is only a worst-case scenario, seen commonly with athletes who are constantly scrutinized and watched to the highest degree, getting nitpicked for everything. It is more of a story to see these types of players fail than to see the quiet, under-the-radar ones succeed.
One example of a player that is now famous without coming into the league as such is Mike Piazza. A 62nd-round pick in the MLB draft is not supposed to succeed at the major league level. So many baseball players see their playing careers fizzle out in the minors. Piazza, however, is a prime example of someone who never gave up and continued to work hard to become the player that he was over his 16-year professional career. One of the best hitting catchers of all-time, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame earlier this year. He also had his jersey number retired by the team he spent the most time with, the New York Mets.
Despite all the negative news we see about athletes never living up to the hype or the potential that they are destined to reach, there are so many that exceed expectations and achieve greatness in their own measure, despite the unpredictability, on a level that was never seen to be achievable to anyone but themselves.
Matt Lamb is a broadcasting and visual media major from Howell, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattS_Lamb.