They are not like us.
We are just going to have to understand that.
As much as sports fans may desire our current athletes to live their sport, be consumed with their games, spend every possible moment trying to improve because their professional window is so small (unless you’re Tom Brady), they just don’t.
Eventually they might, as their career progresses, as they reach 30, as their bodies begin to betray them and they have to survive with guile. But Kyler Murray is never going to be Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas or Warren Moon. He’s never going to live the game as we expect him to, despite the Arizona Cardinals paying him $230.5 million to be their quarterback into the next decade.
It’s bothersome that the club placed a “homework” clause in his contract that mandated Murray study football on his personal time for four hours per week. Players getting by merely on athletic prowess or a brilliant skill set is nothing new in professional sports, but those athletes getting paid nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is.
What many older sports fans have to realize is that they are not like us. They didn’t grow up in a generation when athletes were strongly encouraged not to drink or smoke (although smoking was pretty normal in the 1960s and ’70s). They have grown up in a generation when losses are just taken more lightly, when they don’t always feel the obligation to be in shape, when they feel their careers will last forever, despite the countless examples that it could dissipate any time.
Of course, Celtics fans want Jayson Tatum, after his putrid NBA Finals performance, to disappear, move to Romania or Newfoundland, grow a beard down to his waist and work feverishly on his game, strengthen his weaknesses, and then return to Boston hours before training camp on a mission to atone for his struggles on the biggest stage.
Instead, Tatum is taking photos with Golden State nemesis Draymond Green at a white party or is in New York for a movie premiere. It’s not that Tatum isn’t working on his game, but he chooses to appreciate the other aspects of his life, enjoy his son, make public appearances, seek normalcy.
He’s not going to be Rocky Balboa in Russia before the Drago fight. He’s not going to sequester himself somewhere in shame. That’s not many of today’s athletes. They have personal lives. They play lots of video games. They enjoy their wealth. They take advantage of a sports culture that idolizes them, pays them handsomely, and monitors their every move.
The one factor our generation of athletes didn’t have to face is social media scrutiny. When Tatum decided to answer some questions on Twitter earlier this month, one fan asked rudely, “Why did you stink vs. the Warriors?” He responded with: “Get knocked down 9 times get up 10.”
Tatum is obviously accustomed to the criticism. Any major athlete with a Twitter or Instagram account is, because some fans revel in being disrespectful. They revel in telling you they can be better at your job than you are. They are rude because they can be, because they don’t expect a response, and if they do get one, they celebrate the accomplishment.
Today’s athletes are not like us.
They have been through different experiences. They are not allowed to be as young and immature as our generation because of camera phones and social media. They have people just waiting for their downfall, relishing their failures because they want to see humility, they want to pounce on the negative because it’s easier.
So when the discussion of the clause in Murray’s contract hit the national sports air, with some calling it racially motivated or an indication that Murray lacks professionalism, the Cardinals rescinded it. It was a terrible public relations hit for a franchise that has had little success dating back to its St. Louis days.
The one thing it did right was draft Murray, a masterful quarterback with the ability to run 50 yards untouched or toss the football 75 on the run. His physical skills are undeniable, and he has been good enough mentally to garner a lucrative extension, although he has glaring weaknesses.
The problem, as with many of Murray’s brethren, is that he doesn’t live the game. We want our football players to live football. We want everybody to be Brady — the first one there, last one to leave, working feverishly on his body as his career progresses. He is the model for professional athletes.
But our generation is learning that many of those who followed Brady, who are entering their primes, their maximum earning powers, are not like we want them to be. They are not like we think we would have been in their position.
They love the game, but they also love other things. How do we accept that? How do we digest that the past is indeed the past, and there are thousands of athletes who are permanently disfigured or disabled from playing hurt, toughing it out, playing too long, living for the game and nothing else?
They are not like us, and we’ll be better off when we realize that and accept them for who they are. They need to be better but we also need to temper our expectations because, again, they are not like us.