As a fan, is production all you care about?
If a player puts up big numbers and helps your team win, will you root for the player regardless of the player’s behavior?
Does a player’s effort or attitude matter to you?
It does to me and that may put me in the minority among sports fans today.
It seems that a growing number of fans care only about how much a player helps the team to win.
Little else matters.
But, if I’m going to devote time and energy to support a team, I want to root for players who are easy to cheer for.
To me, that starts with playing hard.
I remember years ago writing a commentary critical of Kevin Garnett turning down a $103 Million contract offer by the Minnesota Timberwolves. After all, he was just a couple of years into his NBA career after coming straight to the league from high school, and had yet to accomplish all that much in the NBA.
A couple of months later, he signed a 6-year, $126 Million contract with the club.
What made him think he was deserving of such a contract without having truly proven himself?
As an aside…We can lament the Monopoly™ figures of professional sports contracts all we want, but we are all better off leaving the salaries out of the equation when watching the games. To do otherwise just takes the fun out of it. After all, we don’t go to a concert and think about how much the band is making while we listen to the music.
In any case, Kevin Garnett went on to teach me a lot about criticizing a player without first understanding what makes him tick —- for Garnett is a player with heart, a tremendous work ethic and a fierce desire to win. He plays hard every game, regardless of contract status.
For me, that makes Kevin Garnett easy to root for.
As a fan, I accept physical errors. They are part of the game. We all make mistakes. It’s frustrating to watch, I know, but what sense does it make to get angry over them? Especially when we try to tie it to the money they make. Do we really believe that because a player makes a lot of money they no longer will make physical mistakes on the field?
But what should drive us all crazy are the preventable mental errors and mistakes that result from a lack of hustle.
Lack of effort is inexcusable and we are seeing it happen far too often.
Take baseball, for instance. We understand that sometimes, athletes are playing with injuries that make it hard to run. That said, how many times have you seen a player:
* Fail to run out a ground ball assuming an out, only to have the ball bobbled, and they still get thrown out.
* Jog to first on a high fly ball and see it drop, and the hitter is standing at first base instead of second base.
* Stand at the plate admiring a long fly ball the player thinks is a Home Run only to have the ball fall short with the hitter nearly thrown out at second base.
It’s become so common place, broadcasters often ignore or make excuses for the failure of players to run hard.
How can talented athletes let themselves down, their teammates down, their coaches down, their fan’s down, the person who signs their paycheck down —- by not playing hard?
How can they watch the replays and not be embarrassed?
The answer probably is in our system of risk and reward.
We reward athletes for putting up numbers. Results drive salaries and determine playing time. The more productive a player, the more latitude the player is given in the areas of personal behavior, effort and attitude.
Sadly, we see it at every level of sports with too many youth coaches, consciously or not, choosing winning over teaching by overlooking behavior issues with players who help the team win. It’s misguided, of course. After all, is anyone going to remember the won-loss record of a 7th grade travel team?
So, the star athlete perceives little risk to showing a poor attitude or lack of effort.
Many professional athletes don’t see the true reasons behind a disconnect with fans. They think that fans are simply jealous and resentful of the money players make.
The players are wrong.
For most fans, the disconnect isn’t a matter of jealousy over money. It’s that too many players don’t seem to appreciate the money and the opportunity they’ve had to play a kid’s game and to be highly compensated for playing it.
“Playing Hard” is how athletes respect their sport.
Founder & Executive Director
Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.