Chapter 2

The American Dream and Sport

Donald Siegel

A question of interest to the student of sport is whether or not involvement on a high level really is a fast track to realizing the American Dream. Certainly, most people view the possession of athletic prowess as a valuable attribute that can open many doors. ColemanÕs classic study (1965), which has been corroborated in part a number of times (e. g., Eitzen, 1975; Buchanan, Blankenbaker, and Cotton, 1976), identified athletic prowess in males as essential to being included in "the leading crowd" in American high schools. We also know that athletic prowess can help get an individual accepted into a college, sometimes even when his academic credentials are suspect. Images in the media of prominent professional athletes also convey the message that fame and fortune awaits those who are capable of making a major athletic league or are able to compete with the best tennis players, boxers, race car drivers, or golfers. Certainly, such observations would lead a reasonable person to conclude that oneÕs dreams can be fulfilled by excelling in athletics.

 

Yet, many questions remain about the feasibility and durability of a career in professional athletics. While the potential for vast fame and fortune exists for those who make it to the top of the athletic pyramid, those who commit themselves to such a journey should at least ponder some of the following issues: (a) the number of available slots given the number of persons pursuing athletic careers, (b) the length of a typical career, (c) the real lifetime value of large short-term income, as opposed to lesser immediate income which accrues over many more years, (c) the types of situations or events that can prematurely terminate a career (e. g., injury), (d) post competitive adjustment issues including declining income and diminished celebrity status, and (e) the intense scrutiny to which one's personal life is placed in the public domain.

 

Seemingly, the accelerated track to fame and fortune via athletics may be a two edged sword since the road to riches is filled with as many pot holes as the post athletic career journey. Whether the dream is sustainable over a lifetime for those who become prominent professionals is an important issue, since success at an early age must be followed by success in later years if we are to conclude that an individual has really fulfilled the American Dream through athletics.

 

What is the American Dream?

The American Dream is something that each of us in the United States is inculcated with in one way or another. As children, we are taught to believe that education, initiative, determination, dedication, loyalty, and hard work are the prerequisites and staples of success. For individuals who also possess unique talent in a popular field and a bit of luck, fame and fortune awaits.

 

Exemplars of this ideology are all around us. The child born in a log cabin who grows-up to become president, the penniless emigrant who builds a financial empire, and the struggling entertainer who becomes a sensation overnight all epitomize the potential for success in our culture. Each has achieved by their own talent, initiative, and effort some degree of financial prosperity, social prominence, and personal security. In contrast to other societies in which social status and economic position may be more a function of the standing of oneÕs family, merit is believed to be the determining factor mediating who gets what in America.

 

According to Nixon (1984), the American Dream evolved from what has become known as the Protestant Ethic, an ideology of achievement and individualism. He conveys that this ideology contains a set of values which tends to reinforce behavior promoting discipline, hard work, development of personal abilities, deferred gratification, and competitive success. Those who develop such a behavioral profile will reap appropriate social and material rewards, which often can be extraordinary. On the other hand, those who fail likely have only themselves to blame because they most likely fell short in some dimensions such as showing little initiative, lacking necessary skills, or not making necessary sacrifices. Within this system of beliefs it is also inferred that equal opportunity prevails and that personal attributes such as race, gender, and ethnicity are neutral in determining achievement.

 

Interestingly, Chenoweth (1974) points out that the American Dream provides not only a guide for upward mobility, but an important social control function. He claims that those who succeed reinforce the veracity of the ideology and, in essence, provide stability to society by perpetuating the belief system from one generation to the next, as well as orienting and inculcating those immigrating to its shores. For persons who fail, or are relegated to less auspicious circumstance, if accepting of the values which underlie the American Dream, personal shortcomings, rather than "the system" are responsible for oneÕs plight. Consequently, the appropriate course of action for attaining future success becomes developing greater personal agency rather than rebelling against perceived inequitable systemic conditions. Furthermore, for those who fail but continue to believe in the equal opportunity precept at the core of the American Dream, an inferred obligation is to help oneÕs children to attain that access. In this way the American Dream ideology becomes self-perpetuating despite whether or not individuals are fulfilled by believing in and living in accordance with its basic tenets.

 

Yet, as Eitzen and Sage (1978) point out, the United States is a nation with a large degree of diversity in its population, and consequently, a large degree of diversity in the values held by different sub-groups. Sowell (1981) supports this contention as he has argued that people across a range of ethnic and racial categories do not necessarily behave in accordance with all of the basic tenets of the American Dream. He asserts that degrees of success that a cross section of racial and ethnic groups have experienced are attributable to, among other things, cultural traditions and values, appreciation for formal education, extent of acculturation into the mainstream, and passage of time from when a group first appeared on the scene. Sowell also acknowledges that a variety of discriminatory practices have played a part in slowing the upward mobility of most ethnic and racial groups. This is corroborated by Smith (1993), who has argued that despite AmericaÕs fundamental egalitarian ideology of freedom, justice and fair opportunity "for over 80% of U.S. history, its laws declared most of the worldÕs population to be ineligible for full American citizenship solely because of their race, original nationality, or gender" (p. 349). Consequently, the American ethos was designed and primarily applicable, for most of United States history, to a minority of white males of northern European heritage. Yet, the promise of an open society in which equal opportunity prevailed, and rewards were distributed based on merit, rather than inherited attributes provided the impetus for struggles which have resulted in a society which appears to recognize past discriminatory themes and now seems primed to redress exclusionary practices. While not without its critics, affirmative action is an inclusionary ideology which recognizes the rift between the promise of America as a liberal democratic society, and an America which has suffered from the same "isms" that have plagued societies founded on more traditional ideas.

 

Seemingly, the reasons for failing to succeed in America can be quite complex and dependent on many factors which may extend well beyond the efficacy of one's personal behavior. Nonetheless, some believe that the institution of sport provides a unique venue for observing how values associated with the American Dream Ideology can become operationalized in real life settings. In essence, sport encompasses many of the same democratic principles upon which the United States was founded. It is an endeavor in which individuals compete under equal conditions to achieve a performance based outcome. Normally, success is derived by exhibiting skill, intelligence, and effort. While not so stated, it is also inferred that such factors as socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and gender are of little consequence, since in sport performance proficiency and competitive accomplishment are supposed to be the primary determinants for inclusion and success.

 

Loy, McPherson, and Kenyon (1978) convey that the values typically associated with sport are "not unlike the great success formula typified by Horatio Alger" (p.381). But just as in the larger society personal attributes have historically gotten in the way and been significant in determining such things as who gets to play, how play is structured, what facilities and equipment one gets to use, whether coaching is available and competent, and the extent to which commercial opportunities as players, coaches, and owners exist. Consequently, discipline, initiative, hard work, perseverance and talent may only go so far.

 

Nonetheless, in sport, the discrepancy between what is supposed to be and what actually is appears easier to assess than in more mundane endeavors. While we might have a tough time determining who among many might be the best accountant, lawyer, machinist, or electrician, we can probably agree that during their peak years there was no better boxer than Jack Johnson, no better female tennis player than Althea Gibson, or no more talented or exciting baseball player than Jackie Robinson. We can also agree that if equal opportunity is supposed to prevail in the United States that it is strikingly unfair that males have a disproportionately large piece of the athletic pie. And we can also agree that although progress to increase equity has been dramatic, we still have a way to go. Tiger Woods should not be an anomaly in a sport like golf or Mat Biondi unique in the swimming world. Nor should there be so few minorities and women who hold ownership or management positions in MLB, the NFL, or NBA. Interestingly, a recent conference on Wall Street (Jackson, 1998) revealed a similarly disturbing pattern in AmericaÕs corporate board rooms. In the end, as pointed out by Smith (1993), America has had an overly idealized view of its experiment in liberal democracy. Deep traditions of racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism have privileged some and disadvantaged many. Thus, what is true in society at large might also be expected to be true in sports.

 

But, it is also provocative to ponder the extent to which sport has led the way for change. Indeed, President Clinton in a recent ESPN Special (1998) concerned with race and sport stated that sport has often led society towards important social change. As suggested, such an hypothesis seems reasonable in light of sportÕs vast participatory base and an audience which is instilled by such basic values as equality of opportunity, and playing by the rules. To emphatically prove or disprove such an assertion, however, is not possible, but certainly worthy of consideration.

 

The Athletic Hero/ine and the American Dream Ideology

 

Perhaps, the personal attributes which a society prizes most is best reflected in those individuals it tends to award hero status. A sampling of some of our greatest heroes and heroines tends to support the contention that the American Dream Ideology remains embodied in our collective consciousness, since these figures tend to possess, or at least are perceived to possess, the constellation of Algerian traits. Those who have the "right stuff", regardless of ethnic, social, and racial affiliations, can succeed and become symbols for what the rest of us should be striving. Past and present sport heroes and heroines, such as Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, Muhammad Ali, Vince Lombardi, Michael Jordan, and Kristy Yamaguchi are some of our most prominent sport icons. Indeed, the sport's world appears to provide a particularly visible example of the unusual degree of "success" that can be attained in American Society despite one's biological or social legacy. Seemingly, few endeavors can catapult an individual at such an earlier age, so rapidly, to such celestial heights!

 

A poll taken several years ago by Sport Magazine (1986) found the following group of 40 individuals to have had the greatest impact on sport in American culture.


 

1

 Jackie Robinson

 21

 Jim Brown

 2

 Muhammad Ali

 22

 Mickey Mantle

 3

 Pete Rozelle

 23

 Wayne Gretzky

 4

 Arnold Palmer

 24

 Casey Stengle

 5

 Vince Lombardi

 25

 Sugar Ray Robinson

 6

 Branch Rickey

 26

 Paul Brown

 7

 Red Auerbach

 27

 Martina Navratilova

 8

 Marvin Miller

 28

 Henry Aaron

 9

 Bill Russell

 29

 Willie Shoemaker

 10

 Billy Jean King

 30

 Al Davis

 11

 Wilt Chamberlain

 31

 Avery Brundage

 12

 John Wooden

 32

 Curt Flood

 13

 Jack Nicklaus

 33

 Bob Cousy

 14

 Roone Arledge

 34

 Bear Bryant

 15

 Ted Williams

 35

 Pelˇ

 16

 Howard Cosell

 36

 Pete Rose

 17

 Willie Mays

 37

 Jim Norris

 18

 Chris Evert

 38

 Abebe Bikila

 19

 Joe Namath

 39

 Jim Bouton

 20

 Bobby Orr

 40

 Bill France, Sr.

 

A similar list was compiled by Sports Illustrated (September 1994), and represents the most influential persons associated with sports during its forty years of publication:

1

 Muhammad Ali

 21

 Bill Russell

 2

 Michael Jordan

 22

 Howard Cosell

 3

 Roone Arledge

 23

 Joe Montana

 4

 Jim Brown

 24

 Bear Bryant

 5

 Billie Jean King

 25

 Roberto Clemente

 6

 Pete Rose

 26

 Olga Korbut

 7

 Marvin Miller

 27

 Arthur Ashe

 8

 Larry Bird/M. Johnson

 28

 Richard Petty

 9

 Arnold Palmer

 29

 Bill Rasmussen

 10

 Mark McCormack

 30

 Pelˇ

 11

 Carl Lewis

 31

 Bobby Orr

 12

 Wayne Gretzky

 32

 Sugar Ray Leonard

 13

 Pete Rozelle

 33

 Jim Fixx

 14

 Martina Navratilova

 34

 Nolan Ryan

 15

 Henry Aaron

 35

 Peggy Flemming

 16

 John Wooden

 36

 Don King

 17

 Secretariat

 37

 Dr. Robert Jackson

 18

 Joe Namath

 38

 Greg Lemond

 19

 Dr. Harold Gores

 39

 Gary Davidson

 20

 Jack Nicklaus

 40

 Julius Erving

 

Finally, ESPN listed and produced short biographies of its selection of the 100 greatest athletes of the century (2004). The following individuals were included on their slate.

 

Rank

Athlete

Rank

Athlete

1

Michael Jordan

51

Rocky Marciano

2

Babe Ruth

52

Jack Dempsey

3

Muhammad Ali

53

Rafer Johnson

4

Jim Brown

54

Greg Louganis

5

Wayne Gretzky

55

Mario Lemieux

6

Jesse Owens

56

Pete Rose

7

Jim Thorpe

57

Willie Shoemaker

8

Willie Mays

58

Elgin Baylor

9

Jack Nicklaus

59

Billie Jean King

10

Babe Didrikson

60

Walter Johnson

11

Joe Louis

61

Stan Musial

12

Carl Lewis

62

Jerry West

13

Wilt Chamberlain

63

Satchel Paige

14

Hank Aaron

64

Sammy Baugh

15

Jackie Robinson

65

Althea Gibson

16

Ted Williams

66

Eddie Arcaro

17

Magic Johnson

67

Bob Gibson

18

Bill Russell

68

Al Oerter

19

Martina Navratilova

69

Bonnie Blair

20

Ty Cobb

70

Dick Butkus

21

Gordie Howe

71

Roberto Clemente

22

Joe DiMaggio

72

Bo Jackson

23

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

73

Josh Gibson

24

Sugar Ray Robinson

74

Deion Sanders

25

Joe Montana

75

Dan Marino

26

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

76

Barry Sanders

27

Jerry Rice

77

Cy Young

28

Red Grange

78

Bob Mathias

29

Arnold Palmer

79

Gale Sayers

30

Larry Bird

80

A. J. Foyt

31

Bobby Orr

81

Jimmy Connors

32

Johnny Unitas

82

Bobby Hull

33

Mark Spitz

83

Honus Wagner

34

Lou Gehrig

84

Man oÕ War

35

Secretariat

85

Maurice Richard

36

Oscar Robertson

86

Otto Graham

37

Mickey Mantle

87

Henry Armstrong

38

Ben Hogan

88

Joe Namath

39

Walter Payton

89

Rogers Hornsby

40

Lawrence Taylor

90

Richard Petty

41

Wilma Rudolph

91

Bob Beamon

42

Sandy Koufax

92

Mario Andretti

43

Julius Erving

93

Don Hutson

44

Bobby Jones

94

Bob Cousy

45

Bill Tilden

95

 George Blanda

46

Eric Heiden

96

Michael Johnson

47

Edwin Moses

97

Citation

48

Pete Sampras

98

Don Budge

49

O.J. Simpson

99

Sam Snead

50

Chris Evert

100

Jack Johnson

 

 

Among these lists some individuals solely impacted sport, while others also had a significant influence outside of the sport's world. Certainly, all of these individuals were prominent persons, but what else must they be besides influential in a highly visible field to be awarded hero status? Who amongst those on the list, and those omitted, would you identify as being a hero? On the other hand, who would you simply identify as being influential or famous persons?

 

Klapp (1948) suggests that heroes emanate from situations having drama and great human interest. Competitive endeavors, such as are found in sport contests, certainly provide ample opportunities for finding circumstances in which individuals can test and display their perseverance, courage, and skill . Heroes are those persons who succeed in these endeavors while displaying grace, despite the inherent, and often enormous, pressures to succeed. According to Klapp, superhuman endurance, skill, intellect, bravery, and/or virtue often come to the fore at critical moments to decide outcomes in favor of the hero. Seemingly, these attributes also reflect the demands of sports and athletics and explain, to some extent, why successful athletes are among our society's most celebrated persons.

 

Caryle (1950) states that heroes are "the leaders of men ...the modelers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators of whatever the general mass of men contrived to do or attain" (p. 9). Elaborating on this theme, Ingham, Howell, and Swetman (1993) note that sports possess content, form, and social relations, and it is within one or a combination of these components that heroes arise. Content refers to the way skills within a particular activity are executed. Form involves the manner in which events are organized. Social relations entail such things as inclusion or exclusion of various groups or individuals, coach-player relationships, role definition, acceptance, and fulfillment. As well, a distinction is made between individuals who simply excel in one of these areas, and those who also transform them, with the later being more closely tied to being awarded hero status. Illustrations of individuals who impacted sport in these different ways, and who are listed in one of the tables above include: (a) Bill Russell, (b) Billie Jean King, and (e) Jackie Robinson.

 

Bill Russell changed the content of men's basketball by being one of the first, and surely the most successful, of the dominant defensive centers. Prior to his arrival on the scene the game was typified by out-side set shooters, and ungainly tall centers who dominated offense on the. In contrast, Russell changed the game by his elegant movements, and ability to block shots, rebound, and start the fast break. He established the model for today's tall, agile, and cerebral centers. While Russell's accomplishments are legend including NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, and a slew of NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, it should be clear that he was not just a great defender, but one who transformed the nature of defense.

 

Billie Jean King, although a fierce competitor and great champion, might be categorized under the form criterion. Her advocacy for women's sports over three decades transformed women's professional tennis from being just a sideshow into a main event. Because of Billie Jean, women's tennis took center court, and with it an enlarged schedule of events, increased media exposure, and a significantly greater pool of prize money. While many other women deserve credit for the development of the game, Billie Jean possessed the energy, sophistication, and organizational skills to make it all happen.

 

Finally, when social relations and sport are discussed the name that first comes to mind is Jackie Robinson. He was the individual who ended segregation in major league baseball, and provided the example for doing so in other professional sports. Jackie was the one on the front line who had to demonstrate excellence in performance while at the same time enduring an endless stream of hostile racial behaviors from teammates, competitors, and fans. Evidence of his character, comportment, and performance is documented in several books, Hall of Fame displays, and in the minds of those who observed this man in action. It might be argued that Robinson's impact extended well beyond the boundaries of baseball and sport in general.

 

Klapp (1962) also asserts that heroes are important to a society because they provide standards of behavior and performance for the rest of us to admire and, ultimately, aspire. Seemingly this is what Mailer (1968) alludes to in conveying that the hero "embodies a fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow" (p.377). Consequently, one might surmise that heroes perpetuate the ideals which the society holds dear. Weiss (1969) has elaborated on this theme in stating:

Excellence excites and awes. It pleases and it challenges. We are often delighted by splendid specimens whether they be flowers, beasts, or men. A superb performance interests us even more because it reveals to us the magnitude of what then can be done. Illustrating perfection, it gives us a measure for whatever else we do . . . (p.3).

 

Boyle (1963) astutely observed that one of our most cherished American fictional folk heroes was Frank Merriwell who characterized the union of performance excellence with admirable personal attributes. Merriwell represented athletic prowess of the highest level encapsulated in a person who stood for such values as truth, faith, justice, the triumph of right, home, friendship, loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice, strength of character and body. Other real life figures who might conceivably be considered heroes and heroines along these lines include Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph, Roberto Clemente and Arnold Palmer.

 

In the end though, one might ask whether it is really important to have heroes and heroines? From a cultural standpoint one might argue that through modeling, rather than from academic discourses, children learn values and associated behaviors. Seemingly, then, our models are the means through which American Ideals are passed from generation to generation. If genuine heroes and heroines exist, then these individuals are likely to be the models which are emulated. If heroes and heroines can not to be found, then other less worthy individuals will become the models of the younger generation. Today, this seems to be an issue in the sports world as so many seemingly heroic athletes have been tarnished by a variety of dysfunctional or illegal behaviors ranging from violence to drug abuse, and from disloyalty to naked avarice.

 

But, it is interesting to note that some of our real life sports heroes of the past often did not live up to the classical notion of hero either, epitomized by the Merriwell persona. Yet, in an effort to preserve the fiction such individuals were frequently protected by a media that for one reason or another wished to create and perpetuate the myth. An example of such an individual was Babe Ruth who, according to Schecter (1970), had an overdriven striving for "food, alcohol, and women." Yet, Ruth may arguably be remembered as the most celebrated athletic hero of all time. Today, as Eucher points out (Coffey, 1994), we have an ESPN-CNN mentality, in which every possible piece of information about an athleteÕs performance and personal life is presented to the public. In contrast to earlier times when less information was available, or willingly conveyed, a greater mystique and distance prevailed around celebrated persons, and the public was left to use its own imagination to fill in gaps between what was known, and the fictional model to which athletic heroes were supposed to ascribe. Consequently, past sport heroes may have differed little from the more tarnished prominent sports persons of the present day. They may have simply been more a construction of the active imaginations of sports writers and fans than of the actual feats of excellence in performance and model behavior that images conveyed.

 

Seemingly, Americans have preferred to remember the good and forget the bad in individuals who approached hero status. Telander (1991), commenting on this notion observed:

We feel that because a person can run fast, hit hard, jump high, dunk a ball or knock one into the parking lot, that person is someone to be admired and emulated and even listened to, despite the fact that none of his skills have much value away from the playing venue (p. 108).

 

Perhaps this is so because if we held all potential performers firmly to the Merriwell criteria, we would have no one left who would qualify for hero or heroine status. Yet today, possibly because of the development of communication's technology, and the plethora of media sources which cover sports, there appears to be a different type of relationship forming between the press and our most highly acclaimed athletes. It appears that the public is now informed not only about every feat achieved by an athlete, but also about every possible personal defect a sports celebrity may possess. Nonetheless, the public still seems willing to accept athletes as heroes because of their unique abilities, even though they may not be admired as model individuals. Telander points out though that because we are so willing to make our athletes demigods, we are inevitably let down when informed of their shortcomings. He identifies Pete Rose, Otis Nixon, Magic Johnson, Dwight Gooden, Len Bias, Denny McLain, and Shoeless Joe Jackson as a few examples of superstars who excelled on the playing field, but fell far short in the character department. Telander goes on to say that we should not really be surprised by an athlete's shortcomings since:

Great athletes almost always have tunnel vision. Their jobs are simple and do not require reflection. Indeed, self-consciousness is an athlete's mortal enemy. Great athletes are a lot like children-innocent, naive, egocentric, fiercely competitive. And they rise and fall on the outcome of simple events: a ball struck, a leap taken, a cheer heard. (p. 108)

 

He concludes that in 20 years as a sportswriter he never met a great athlete that he would not describe, "... at least in part, as childish."

A number of years ago, Deford (1969) also pointed out that there were differences between the notion of hero and superstar. The latter he asserted possessed not only a high level of skill, but a notoriety and impact that could be redeemed at the box office. Examples of the modern day superstar who fit DefordÕs notion include such individuals as Muhammad Ali, John McEnroe, Roger Clemmens, Martina Navratalova, Charles Barkley, Mike Tyson, Albert Belle, and Dennis Rodman. Seemingly, in his view, the concepts of hero and superstar should be differentiated by the public. Rhoden (1991) concurs with this view in stating:

Athletes are no longer seldom-seen demigods who descend from Olympus at game time. They are people who occasionally drink too much, drive too fast, fail to pay taxes and enjoy hobnobbing with other celebrities. (p. 16).

 

Further, he sees fans as less and less capable of identifying with athletes because of the confluence of their prodigious salaries, their extraordinary media exposure, and the public's access to information about sports. Yet, if this were entirely true, one needs to ponder why corporations are so eager to use such individuals in their advertising and as corporate spokespersons, and why the public continues to attend games and subscribe to sport's channels in record numbers? While such persons may not be the type of person to be emulated by the nationÕs youth, they still have a fascination value that attracts attention and sells merchandise.

 

Consequently, while changing over time, there apparently seems to be some confusion about the role of athletic hero. Although we now seem to recognize that a superstar may not necessarily be the model individual that was perpetuated by the Merriwell persona, we still opt to celebrate athletic excellence despite acknowledged shortcomings a performer may possess. While we may not particularly admire our superstars as people, we are still willing to marvel at their achievements, and to pay attention to what they have to say.

 

Again, one can ponder how the concept of hero within the world of sport reflects the changing nature of this concept in our larger society. We seem to be willing to accept less, perhaps as a matter of expedience. Yet, Smith (1973) notes the lament from a popular Simon and Garfunkel song "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you," seems to be pinning for our traditional "whole" heroes. As Smith concludes, we appear to be left with only:

. . . incomplete or tarnished quasiheroes. We still have the need to worship heroes, but the models that are available are becoming less and less exemplary (p. 68).

 

From a psychological perspective, it seems that our befuddlement over the notion of athletic hero today makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the star athlete to perform the myriad roles that have been historically associated with this concept. Indeed, Michael Jordan commenting on living up to his image noted:

People look to their role models to be almost flawless . . . It's hard to live up to something like that, really harder than basketball. It's really the biggest job I have" (Telander, 1991, p.108).

 

If then we can infer something about the current day American Dream Ideology from what the concept hero has become, we might conclude that although we still may hold the Merriwell persona as an ideal, we are certainly willing to settle for less; perhaps a lot less. The age of information has taught us a great deal about one another. Idyllic 19th century views of humanity have been replaced by the hard realities of the day. Success, possibly a bit of notoriety, and a great deal of media exposure seem to define the superstars of today. How success is attained or what type of person the individual is may be of less significance in determining hero status than what he/she achieves, how they do it, and how achievements are promoted (Verducci, 1993). Thus, it may be that the product has become ultimately more important than the process.

 

It may also be true that as our country increases in diversity, mainstream values associated with the Merriwell ethic may only appeal to one subculture among many. Indeed, Dennis Rodman, antihero of the world champion Chicago Bulls of the NBA, has become somewhat of a marketing dynamo, and his autobiography has become the best selling book by a basketball player of all time! Perhaps, if an analysis of the athletic hero/supertstar tells us anything about what Americans value, it is that achievement has become increasingly important and can transcend impoverished morals, poor sportsmanship, and boorish personal comportment. Yet, in a recent article Lipsyte (1999) appears unwilling to accept the idea that great athletes owe us only their best performances. He wrote about how four of our greatest superstars (i.e., Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Steffi Graf, and John Elway), really only provided us with great entertainment. He suggests Michael Jordan might have used his fame and influence and "Éstepped up in some way to deal with Nike's exploitation of Asian workersÉ" while Steffi Graf could have done more to support Monica Seles after she was stabbed, and forced to leave the professional tennis circuit, by a Graf supporter. He juxtaposes these superstars with others who have gone above and beyond athletics to impact our lives, giving the examples of: (a) Pee Wee Reese, a southerner, publicly embracing Jackie Robinson as he was being verbally abused by fans who could not accept blacks playing major league baseball, (b) Lance Armstrong going on to win the Tour de France after battling testicular cancer or Lyudmila Engquist jumping hurdles after chemo-therapy for breast cancer, and (c) Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King using their athletic status to fight for social justice. Presumably, despite modern ways of thinking about celebrities, the idea that athletes must also be role models and heroes remains embedded in our collective unconscious.

 

Despite this unsettled issue, a theme which remains essential to the American Dream Ideology is that anyone is eligible to become a hero/superstar, and/or role model. Race, religion, gender, socio-economic status and ethnic affiliation need not be an impediment to success, if an individual performs with distinction, has charisma, and can connect to fans.

 

Athletic Involvement and Upward Mobility

 

Clearly, there is an enduring belief in our society that athletic experiences and socioeconomic mobility are in various ways intertwined. Underwood (1981) summarizes statements made by a number of people who attributed their subsequent successes to having participated in sport as a child. Former California Senator Alan Cranston, who was at one time a world-class sprinter, claimed: "I wouldn't be where I am today were it not for athletics." Former astronaut, and airline executive Frank Borman noted: "Sports taught me that if you want to reach a goal you have to sacrifice for it. Second, that the team and the institution are more important than the individual" (p.67). Recently deceased pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, a 1924 Olympic gold medal-winner in crew stated, "I was a chinless mother's boy. Crew made me" (p.67). Sociologist David Riesman, summarized such thoughts on the relationship between athletics and subsequent success in stating, "The path to the boardroom leads through the locker room".

 

Seemingly, individuals believe that there are things that one can learn within the world of sports and athletics which transfer positively to various occupational roles. Such attributes as teamwork, competitiveness, discipline, emotional stability, working under pressure, and being goal oriented have often been identified as valued traits in both sports and other occupations. Riesman (in Underwood, p. 67), further suggests that athletics also teaches individuals to take risks, to take charge, and to endure beyond self-perceived endurance limits.

 

If, indeed, participation in sports engenders such personality characteristics, then arguments made in favor of sports as an essential educational adjunct, and as a medium through which positive social values are conveyed have increased validity. Certainly, it would not be difficult to understand the rationale for Riesman's contention that athletics provides a basis for subsequent occupational success, and upward mobility. This issue will be examined more closely in Chapter 4 which deals with the relationship between education and athletics.

 

The problem of examining social and economic mobility within the sportÕs world is another issue. Here, instead of viewing sport as a training ground for other endeavors, one might investigate the degree to which individuals can actually succeed in an athletic career. Specifically, inquiry in this realm probes such issues as the magnitude of rewards to be attained, the longevity of employment as an athlete or support person, and the nature of the physical demands and psychological pressures associated with athletic related occupations.

 

According to Michener (1976):

With a little practice, one could look at the Boston newspapers of any given era, and by seeing who was fighting whom, determine where the various immigrant groups were on the social ladder. Men fought in the Boston rings not because they wanted to, but because that was the only way out. And to a large extent that truism still governs sports. (p. 211)

 

Weinberg and Arond (1952) in tracing the succession of prominent cohort groups of boxers between 1909 and 1948 found a succession from the Irish who were followed by the Jews, who were followed by the Italians, who were subsequently replaced by African Americans. They claimed that the juvenile and adolescent culture of groups at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum often tend to be violent, with individual and gang fights common. Those who show fighting prowess on the streets typically gain status and self-esteem. As well, such aggressive subcultures provide a nurturing basis for a boxing culture since individuals with little hope and few skills see opportunities to utilize their fighting savvy to rapidly acquire prestige and money.

 

Calhoun (1981), identified a similar pattern in football, basketball and baseball in which dominance of each game appeared to shift over time from individuals representing minority groups in the process of ascending the socioeconomic ladder. This pattern was characterized by a succession from German, Irish, Polish, Italian, Jewish, Black and Latino ethnic/racial groups. Calhoun quoting a refugee coal loader in 1948, seems to have captured the meaning of sport as a means to upward mobility:

The impossibility of attaining human goals in real life, in production and in social relations led to sublimation in the fanciful reflex world of sports. . . To the chosen few, athletics became a road to success. Individual ability could find expression in sporting events . . . to an extent not discoverable elsewhere in society. (p15)

 

One of the more perceptive analyses of how sport interacts with an ethnic group's quest for upward social and economic mobility was written by Levine (1992), who examined the plight of the Jewish athlete. Today, one might joke in asking "what is the shortest book in the world?" "Great Jewish Sports Heroes" might be the answer. But as Levine conveys, Jews were very much part of the sporting world during the first half of the twentieth century. In fact, he points out that between 1900 and 1950 basketball was a "Jewish game," dominated at both the college and professional levels by such players as Nat Holman, Max Zaslofsky and Moe Goldman. As well, in boxing during 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1935, three of eight world titles were held by Jewish fighters, and in 1933 it was four of eight! Baseball also had such luminaries as Hank Greenberg, Andy Cohen, and Harry Danning.

 

Levine cogently argues that the reason for success in sports by Jews during these times was a consequence of their desire to assimilate into the mainstream as newly arrived immigrants, and sport served such a function. As is the case in the inner cities today, many community based sports programs were developed (e.g., Young MenÕs Hebrew Association) which targeted, among other things, athletic prowess as an important objective. Furthermore, as in todayÕs world, elevated social status was bestowed on those who excelled, and this combination of opportunity and reinforcement resulted in the development of many fine athletes.

 

It is interesting to note that success by Jews in sport was accompanied by the same types of racist and ethnocentric reasoning given for the successes of African -American athletes today. Whereas the black athlete's athletic excellence has been attributed to superior "biological equipment," the Jewish athlete's physical prowess was degraded as he was characterized as being "sneaky" and deceitful, and won only because of his treachery. Levine concludes that successful assimilation of Jews into America's mainstream economic and social institutions was accompanied by a de-emphasizing of sport in American Jewish culture. Interestingly, many have argued today (e.g., Edwards, 1973) that the lack of opportunity in areas other than athletics has resulted in a disproportionate number of African American youth devoting their time and energy to honing physical skills which not only continue to elevate their status within their communities, but which may be exchanged for material rewards such as college scholarships and professional contracts.

 

 How much money do our Best Athletes Earn?

Without question, top athletes can earn a great deal of money today. Some of their income comes from salaries or winnings, while for many, an even larger portion may come from endorsing a variety of products ranging from sneakers to fast foods. Some may even appear in films. In contrast to what first rate professional athletes earned during the 1950s and 1960s when they were compensated within the range of what upper middle class workers and well paid managers made, todayÕs average professional athlete is a millionaire several times over, and the earnings of "elite" professionals can even be compared with those of CEOs in major corporations.

In order to provide some perspective on the yearly income of top athletes, it would be of interest to compare them with the income of prominent individuals in other occupations. Forbes Magazine maintains a database at their web site (www.forbes.com) of top wage earners across a variety of fields. Table 1 lists a representative sample of people with the highest compensations within corporate America. As seen, total compensation for the 25 people on this list is extraordinary by any standard. The average yearly compensation for these individuals was $75,412 (median $55,990,000)! When juxtaposed against the average 2001 income in the U.S. for women ($29,215) and men ($38,275) these figures really make one wonder about relative worth and compensation[1]. Furthermore, CNN (2006) recently reported that of the Fortune 500 companies only 10 had female chief executives. Finally, the average age of persons making this list was 59.

Table 1. Total compensation of Top Wage Earners in Corporate America 2005.

 Company

 Type

 Name

 Age

 Total Compensation

 Capital One Financial

Investments/Finance

 Richard D. Fairbank

55

 $249,420,000

 Yahoo

 Internet

 Terry S. Semel

 63

 $230,550,000

 Cendant

 Real estate/Travel

 Harry R. Silverman

 65

 $139,960,000

 KB Home

 Homes/Finance

 Bruce Karatz

 60

 $135,530,000

 Lehman Bros Holdings

 Investments/Fiance

 Richard S. Fuld Jr.

 60

 $122,670,000

 Occidental Petroleum

 Oil

 Ray R. Irani

 71

 $80,730,000

 Oracle

 Software

 Lawrence J. Ellison

 61

 $75.330,000

 Symantec

 Software

 John W. Thompson

 57

 $71,840,000

 Caremark Rx

 Prescription Drugs

 Edwin M. Crawford

 57

 $69,950,000

 Countrywide Financial

 Financial Services

 Angelo R. Mozilo

 67

 $68,950,000

 Cisco Systems

 Computers

 John T. Chambers

 56

 $62,990,000

 Ryland Group

 Homebuilding

 R. Chad Dreier

 58

 $56,470,000

 Coach

 Leather Products

 Lew Frankfort

 60

 $55,990,000

 Hovnanian Enterprises

 Homebuilding

 Ara K. Hovnanian

 48

 $47,830,000

 Sunoco

 Oil

 John G. Drosdick

 62

 $46,190,000

 Toll Brothers

 Homebuilding

 Robert I Toll

 65

 $41,310,000

 Target

 Retail

 Robert J. Ulrich

 63

 $39,630,000

 Dell

 Computers

 Kevin B. Rollins

 53

 $39,310,000

 Marathon Oil

 Oil

  Clarence P. Cazalot

 55

 $37,480,000

 Yum Brands

 Restaurants

 David C. Novak

 53

 $37,420,000

 EOG Resources

 Oil/Gas

 Mark G. Papa

 59

 $36,540,000

 Genzyme

 Biotechnology

 Henri A. Termeer

 60

 $36,380,000

 Freeport Copper

 Natural Resources

 Richard C. Adkerson

 59

 $35,410,000

 Amgen

 Biotechnology

 Kevin W. Sharer

 58

 $34,490,000

 IStar Financial

 Financial Services

 Jay Sugarman

 43

 $32,930,000

Another group of high wage earners, perhaps more comparable to athletes, are those affiliated with the entertainment industry. Table 2 provides a listing of the top wage earners contained on Forbes 2005 Entertainment List[2] . As seen, incomes for people in this industry approximate those of the chief executives appearing in Table 1. A precise comparison of personal worth is difficult, if not impossible to compute, because of the many sources of revenue that are not represented by direct salary and bonuses, such as stock owned or projected future royalties. Nonetheless, it is apparent that our society reaps extraordinary rewards on those at the top of their professions in business and entertainment. The average income for the top 25 on this list was $95 million (median = $67 million).

Table 2 Salaries of Top Wage Earners in the Entertainment, 2004-05.

 Name

 Occupation

 Income (millions)

 Steven Spelberg

 Producer/Director

 $332

 Howard Stern

 Radio Personality

 $302

 George Lucas

 Producer/Director

 $235

 Oprah Winfrey

 TV Personality

 $225

 U2

 Music Group

 $110

 Jerry Seinfeld

 TV Comedian

 $100

 Rolling Stones

 Music Group

 $90

 Dan Brown

 Author

 $88

 Jerry Bruckheimer

 Film/TV Producer

 $84

 J.K.Rowlings

 Author

 $75

 The Eagles

 Musical Group

 $70

 Dick Wolf

 TV Producer

 $70

 Tom Cruise

 Actor

 $67

 Andrew Loyd Webber

 Theater Composer

 $56

 Bruce Springsteen

 Singer

 $55

 Dr. Phil McGraw

 TV Personality

 $45

 Donald Trump

 TV Personality

 $44

 Simon Cowell

 TV Personality

 $43

 50 Cent

 Rapper

 $41

 Paul McCarthy

 Singer

 $40

 David Letterman

 TV Personality

 $40

 Celine Dion

 Singer

 $40

 The Olsen Twins

 TV and Film Actresses

 $40

 Peter Jackson

 Film writer/director

 $39

 Denzel Washington

 Actor

 $38

 

Earnings for a variety of other occupations are presented in Table 3. These data are presented to provide a wider context for where professional athletesÕ salaries fit in the total spectrum, ranging from the rich and famous to the more mundane. The presidentÕs salary is included, and although not trivial, does show that compensation for this position falls much closer to that of the typical U.S. citizen than that of celebrities or business executives. As reported previously, the average family household income in the United States in 2002 was $ 42,409 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).

Table 3 Average Salaries of various occupations from Occupational Outlook Handbook 2004-05.

 Occupation

 Salary

 Comments

 Physician

 $150,267

 Family practice 2002

 President of the U. S.

 $400,000

 2004

 Federal Court Judge

 $154,700

 District Court 2001

 U. S. Senator

 $158,000

 2004

 Auditor

 $73,247

 Federal - 2003

 Lawyers

 $90,209

 Median - 2002

 Industrial Engineers

 $62,150

 Median -2002

 College Faculty

 $64,455

 Average – 2002-2003

 Programmers

 $60,290

 Median - 2002

 Public School Teacher

 $44,367

 Average – 2001-2002

 Police & Detective

 $42,020

 Median – local government - 2002

 Secretaries

 $33,410

 Executive secretary-median-2002

 Real Estate Broker

 $30,9030

 Median - 2002

 

Finally, Table 4 below shows the income (including endorsements) of the highest paid athletes for the world's top 25 athletes (Forbes, 2006). On average, individuals on this list earned $23.1 million dollars (median = $19.0 million dollars). Seemingly, when contrasted with the typical wage earner in the United States the income of top athleteÕs is extraordinary. On the other hand, when compared to top people in the entertainment industry top athleteÕs incomes tend to be less than half of mean and median values. When compared to leaders of corporate America, their compensation even appears lower. Nonetheless, it is clearly the case that athletic prowess can provide an individual with prodigious wealth, especially at a relatively young age.

Table 4. Top 50 Total Incomes for Athletes in 2004-05 (see this link for 2005-2006)

Rank

 Name

 Sport

 Salary/Winnings

 Endorsements

 Income

 1

 Tiger Woods

 Golf

 $6,370,407

 $80,000,000

 $86.3

 2

 Michael Schumacher

 Auto Racing

 $28,000,000

 $53,000,000

 $81.0

 3

 Andre Agassi

 Tennis

 $1,177,254

 $44,500,000

 $45.7

 4

 Shaquille ONeal

 Basketball

 $27,696,429

 $14,000,000

 $41.7

 5

 Oscar De La Hoya

 Boxing

 $38,000,000

 $2,000,000

 $40.0

 6

 Michael Vick

 Football

 $30,100,000

 $7,000,000

 $37.1

 7

 Kevin Garnett

 Basketball

 $23,000,000

 $7,000,000

 $30.0

 7

 David Beckham

 Soccer

 

 

 $30.0

 9

 Peyton Manning

 Football

 $19,165,000

 $10,500,000

 $29.6

 10

 Lebron James

 Basketball

 $4,320,360

 $24,000,000

 $28.3

 11

 Phil Mickelson

 Golf

 $6,384,823

 $21,000,000

 $27.4

 12

 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 NASCAR

 $7,201,380

 $20,000,000

 $27.2

 13

 Alex Rodriguez

 Baseball

 $20,076,000

 $6,000,000

 $26.1

 14

 Derek Jeter

 Baseball

 $19,650,000

 $6,000,000

 $25.7

 15

 Tom Brady

 Football

 $15,506,160

 $9,000,000

 $24.5

 15

 Valentino Rossi

 Motorcycle Racing

 

 

 $24.5

 17

 Manny Ramirez

 Baseball

 $23,200,000

 $1,000,000

 $24.2

 18

 Ronaldo De Lima

 Soccer

 $8,000,000

 $16,000,000

 $24.0

 19

 Kobe Bryant

 Basketball

 $14,175,000

 $9,000,000

 $23.2

 20

 Maria Sharapova

 Tennis

 $3,006,263

 $20,000,000

 $23.0

 21

 Tracy McGrady

 Basketball

 $14,487,000

 $8,000,000

 $22.5

 22

 Serena Williams

 Tennis

 $2,251,798

 $20,000,000

 $22.3

 23

 Vijay Singh

 Golf

 $11,000,000

 $11,000,000

 $22.0

 24

 Ernie Els

 Golf

 

 

 $21.8

 25

 Allen Iverson

 Basketball

 $14,625,000

 $7,000,000

 $21.6

 26

 Jeff Gordon

 NASCAR

 $6,437,660

 $15,000,000

 $21.4

 27

 Roger Clemens

 Baseball

 $18,000,002

 $3,000,000

 $21.0

 28

 Vince Carter

 Basketball

 $12,584,688

 $8,000,000

 $20.6

 29

I Ichiro Suzuki

 Baseball

 $10,500.000

 $10,000,000

 $20.5

 30

 Mike Mussina

 Baseball

 $19,000,000

 $500,000

 $19.5

 31

 Yao Ming

 Basketball

 $4,400,000

 $15,000,000

 $19.4

 32

 Barry Bonds

 Baseball

 $15,000,000

 $4,000,000

 $19.0

 32

 Mike Piazza

 Baseball

 $15,000,000

 $4,000,000

 $19.0

 32

 Dikembe Mutombo

 Basketball

 $19,021,511

 

 $19.0

 32

 Sammy Sosa

 Baseball

 

 

 $19.0

 36

 Chris Webber

 Basketball

 $17,531,250

 $1,000,000

 $18.5

 37

 Allan Houston

 Basketball

 $17,531,250

 $500,000

 $18.0

 37

 Randy Johnson

 Baseball

 $16,000,000

 $2,000,000

 $18.0

 37

 Lance Armstrong

 Bicycling

 $497,500

 $17,500,000

 $18.0

 40

 Jason Kidd

 Basketball

 $14,796,000

 $3,000,000

 $17.8

 40

 Tim Duncan

 Basketball

 $14,260,640

 $3,500,000

 $17.8

 41

 Carlos Beltran

 Baseball

 $17,000,000

 $500,000

 $17.5

 42

 Tim Hudson

 Baseball

 $16,750,000

 $500,000

 $17.2

 42

 Adrian Beltrˇ

 Baseball

 

 

 $17.2

 43

 Antoine Walker

 Basketball

 $14,625,000

 $2,000,000

 $16.6

 44

 Brett Favre

 Football

 $9,500,000

 $7,000,000

 $16.5

 44

 Curt Schilling

 Baseball

 $14,500,000

 $2,000,000

 $16.5

 44

 Grant Hill

 Basketball

 $14,487,000

 $2,000,000

 $16.5

 47

 Kevin Brown

 Baseball

 $15,714,000

 $500,000

 $16.2

 48

 Stephon Marbury

 Basketball

 $14,625,000

 $1,500,000

 $16.1

 49

 Jason Giambi

 Baseball

 $15,500,000

 $500,000

 $16.0

 50

 Zinedine Zidane

 Soccer

 

 

 $16.0

 

Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods led the pack with $86.3 million, while auto racer Michael Schumacher was a close second at $81.0 million. Tennis player Andre Agassi was a distant third taking in $45.7 million. An interesting observation is that team sport athletes in basketball and baseball tend to be over represented in contrast to athletes in other sports, and that approximately 40% of overall earning come from endorsements. As well, to no great surprise, athleteÕs salaries have been rising quite dramatically, with an income of $16.0 million being required to make the list in 2004-05, while a little less than $5 million was necessary in 1994!

Another set of perks included in contracts that are difficult to quantify include the use of chartered jets, courtside seats and stadium boxes to other sporting events, and golf-club memberships. As an example of comprehensive compensation packages, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed pitching sensation Randy Johnson for $52 million over four years, but also included a luxury box at Bank One Ballpark, a membership to Desert Mountain golf club, seasons tickets to the Phoenix Suns games, and a parking spot at the arena (Fatis and Walker, 1998)! Furthermore, corporations which also own professional teams such as News Corp, Walt Disney and Time Warner can throw in perks which include providing opportunities for players in their entertainment division. For example, if New Corp purchases a minority ownership position in the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaquille OÕNealÕs next contract may include deals for movie and television appearances.

Inspection of Table 4 also shows that athletes in only 11 sports are represented. It is apparent that opportunities to earn significant income as an athlete are related to the regular participant, spectator and marketing appeal of an activity. Sixteen basketball and baseball players were on the list, which constitutes the largest number of athletes in a specific sport since the data were first collated in 1990. This was followed by golf with 4, and  football, soccer, and tennis with 3 each.

It is apparent that swimmers, runners, gymnasts, softball players, and skiers just do not have the marketing clout of top performers in the real revenue producing sports. It is also interesting to note that in tracking the top 50 since Forbes began doing so in 1990, the same cluster of sports have been represented with only a representative from some other sport appearing from time to time and then dropping off, never reappearing in subsequent years (e.g., the cyclist Greg LeMond made the list in 1991 and Lance Armstrong is now at number 37). This is not to say that athletes can not earn respectable incomes in other activities, but the "big money" seems to reside in a select group of popular, media oriented, sports.

Another observation is that only 2 females made the list despite increasing opportunities and exposure for women athletes in the media. It is noteworthy that females were represented on the top 50 list in past years. For example, in 1993 Steffi Graf was ranked 15 ($9.8 million), and Gabriela Sabatini was 34th ($6.5 million). In 1994 Steffi Graf fell to 19th ($8.0 million), and Gabriela Sabatini was 38th ($4.9 million). But by 1995 Steffi Graf was down to 30th ($7.5 million), and no other females made the list. No females made the list in 1996 or 1997. This is not to say that there are not women earning millions of dollars in sports, as Serena Williams earned $9.5 million and her sister Venus took in $8.5 million during 2003-04 (Badenhausen, 2004). But in comparison to opportunities for men, those for females have been much more limited. To reinforce this point one could contrast Tiger Woods income of $86.3 million with that of Annika Sorenstam (arguably the best women golfer of all time) which was $7.7 million for 2004-05 (about 9%).

As pointed out by Badenhausen, team sports opportunities for men are much greater and produce significantly more revenue than those for women. He notes that ŅThe teams in the National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball generated an aggregate of $12 billion in their most recent seasons and more than 60% went to pay the players.Ó On the other hand, the only viable professional league for women in the United States is the WNBA, and it is subsidized by the NBA. It will be interesting to watch how golfer Michelle Wie fares in the next few years as she enters the LPGA, as she appears to have star appeal, and a ŅWoodseanÓ potential to bring womenÕs golf to center stage in the sports media. 

On the other hand, race does not appear to be an impediment to inclusion, as 21 of the 50 athletes on the 2004 list are black. Seemingly, this is consistent with the large percentage of African American athletes in the NBA, NFL, and to a lesser degree, in MLB. On the other hand, race still seems to be a factor in the traditional "country club" sports, with Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh being the only persons of color representing golf or tennis[3].

Also worthy of note are the names of some of the companies which endorse prominent athletes. Athletic shoe and clothing companies Nike and Reebok endorse many athletes found on the list. As well, Fila is trying to get into the picture by endorsing Grant Hill who recently signed a 7 year - $80 million dollar deal with them. Coca-cola, Pepsi Cola, and McDonaldÕs also pop-up frequently. Interestingly, Lane (1996) made the observation that although endorsement money is increasing it is also being more carefully dispersed to individuals who portray a positive role image. U.S. companies paid billions in endosement money over the past few years, and there is an increasing trend for increased vigilance in allocating it to "good guys" rather than "bad guys" (e.g. McEnhegart, 2004). The Mike TysonsÕ, Rasheed Wallaces, and Manny RamirezsÕ seem to be out, while the Tiger WoodsÕ, LeBron JamesÕ, Michael JordansÕ, Lance ArmstrongsÕ and Freddy AdusÕ appear to be in. The "good guys" also seem to have lasting appeal, as retired athletes such as Arnold Palmer, Chris Evert, Joe Montana, and Nolan Ryan continue to make millions endorsing a variety of products.

Just recently the sneaker market has gone south, and shoe companies are becoming even more selective in who they select to endorse their products. According to Sports Illustrated (June 8, 1998), Reebok cut the number of NBA players it had under contract from 130 to 20, in football from 550 to 100, and in baseball from 280 to 140. The question has certainly been raised regarding whether companies are reaping a return on their endorsement fees? More likely, the shot gun approach of signing large numbers of athletes to contracts in order to create brand recognition has had its day, and companies are becoming much more sophisticated in selecting spokespersons who can sell a product.

Nonetheless, it is apparent that from a financial point of view athletes have the potential to accumulate significant wealth at a relatively young age. While a great deal of debate exists about whether or not athletes are over- compensated for what they contribute to society, a similar argument can be made about individuals in virtually any field. Are the CEOs making over $100 million dollars a year worth what they do? Are top celebrities worth the compensation they receive? Athletes are no different in regard to others in receiving what the market is willing to pay for the variety of services which they provide. Indeed, Jones (1998) makes the interesting point in comparing athletes and entertainers that it is all about attracting attention so that advertisers can sell the product, whether it be shoes, cars, or soap. The distinction between athletics and conventional entertainment as a form of show business has become less apparent.

However, as pointed out by agent Leigh Steinberg (Walker, 1996), the public is still somewhat distraught over the high salaries paid to athletes. This is because they mistakenly think of professional athletics as a game that is played for fun, rather than as being a highly competitive entertainment business. Steinberg also believes that people have viewed professional athletics as a fantasy, similar to movies, but for unknown reasons the media has focused attention on the pay of athletes while virtually ignoring that of film stars. This has created more of a demand for unrealistic performance expectations in athletes than in movie stars, where a greater perceived relationship exists between what one earns and how well one performs. Accordingly, the continued attention to athletesÕ incomes, contract hassles, owner profits, and strikes have contributed to fan disillusionment because the fantasy world of sport is nullified, and the perceived game begins to look like just another business enterprise in which people seek value and demand to get what they pay for.

In making compensation comparisons among CEOs, celebrities and athletes it should be noted that only the highest paid persons were represented in tables presented. This, of course, can present a relatively skewed view of what typical compensation packages actually look like. Table 5 provides information on average and minimum salaries in the major U.S. professional athletic leagues. As seen, even when one uses minimum salaries as a basis to assess how professional athletes fare in comparison to the typical American worker, compensation is still extraordinary, being somewhere between 5 and 9 times greater. When using averages, the multiple is between 27 and 96! On an historical note it should be recognized that athletes earning such phenomenal incomes as shown in Tables 4 and 5 is a rather recent phenomenon. Hall of fame NBA player Tom Heinson on comparing players of the 1950s and 1960s with those in the 1990s conveyed that the most Bob Cousey, the premier guard in the NBA during the 1950s and early 1960s, ever made was $35,000! He also mentions that the highest salary hall of famer Bill Russell ever made was $100,001. HeinsonÕs largest salary was $28,500 (Jacobson, 1998). In contrast, Heinson notes that current NBA all-star Kevin Garnett makes more than his own highest salary as a player in a half of one game!

A final analysis that Sports Illustrated did for Table 4 is to examine the amount of charitable giving done by prominent athletes. By far, the largest annual outlay in this category was by Andre Agassi who gave $11,044,106. This was followed by Lance Armstrong with $5,280,420, and Tiger Woods with $1,519,999. Clearly, with exception of a few, highly paid athletes do not appear to be giving away much of what they take in. In fact, if one were to compute the aggregate earning of the top 10 athletes in Table 4, and the amount donated by the top 10 philanthropist athletes or their foundations they would find that giving only amounted to about 5% of their income!

Table 5. Minimum, average and maximum salaries in major professional sports leagues in 2004.

 

 NBA

 NFL

 MLB

 WNBA

 Minimum   Salary

 $385,2771

 $230,000 (Rookie)3

 $300,0004

 $30-42,00011

 Average Salary

 $4.9 million2

 $1.26 miliion2

 $ 2.49 million2

 $55,00011

 Highest Paid

 $27.6 million7

 $15.05 million8

 $22.5 million6

 $79,58810

 

1 NBA Website at: http://www.nba.com/news/cap_040713.html.

2(ESPN, April 7, 2004, downloaded from http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=1777832)

3 http://www.vertgame.com/sal_cap.html

4DugoutDollars (2004, July 11, downloaded from http://dugoutdollars.blogspot.com/.

5 Newsday, 20 Feb 1998, pp. A79. Clippers Deal Barry to Heat For Austin, No. 1 Draft Pick.

6 Bodley, Hal. Yanks' payroll soars as MLB average falls. USA Today. (Posted on Posted 4/9/2004 at: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/salaries/2004-04-09-average-decrease_x.htm

7 NBA Top Salaries 2003-2004.(2004, July 2). (downloaded at: http://www.basket-ball.com/basketball-article-13186.html)

8 Weisman, Larry and Sylwester, MaryJo. (2004, May 24). NFL teams talk defense, pay for offense. USA Today. (downloaded from: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/2004-05-24-salary-offense_x.htm)

10 Sportsillustrated.CNN.COM (downloaded at: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/news/2003/05/05/sales_sun_ap/)

11 Reisinger, Sue. (2003, April 29). Womensenews. (Downloaded at: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1309).

Consequently, these limited observations tend to suggest that just as is characteristic of our society's other institutions, the basic tenets of the American Dream can be found within the world of professional athletics. Regardless of one's racial group, gender, or socioeconomic classification, upward social and economic mobility is possible, and dependent on one's opportunities, talent and temperament. Clearly, one will be paid well for possessing unique skills, but there will be many vying for the relatively few positions in professional athletics in the United States. As well, just as in other highly compensated occupations, professional athletes are expected to return revenue to their teams or sports. Hence, being world-class may not be good enough to acquire vast wealth. One must also participate in an activity which is attractive to television viewers, and has a fan base willing to spend large sums to attend contests. In addition, the few who really make it big and win significant endorsements must have the charisma to attract and maintain the attention of fans, and ultimately be able to "sell the product" whatever that may be.

Coaches

In a companion article to that reporting current incomes of athletes, Spiegel (1997) also reports on how coaches and managers have begun to reap the rewards that were once only reserved for star performers. He conveys that Tommy Lasorda, a popular former Dodgers manager, in 1976 earned a salary of only $50,000 which was about one tenth of what some of his players earned. Spiegel also gives the example of Don Shula, former Miami Dolphins Coach, in 1991 earning a salary of $500,000, which was only one ninth of what Rocket Ismael, the highest paid football player that year was paid. But times have changed dramatically with the recognition that coaching expertise is of equal or greater importance than athletic talent to a franchiseÕs success. As Spiegel points out, Pat Riley, former New York Knicks coach, was recently induced to leave New York where he was earning $1.2 million a year for a 10 year deal with the Miami Heat which was estimated to pay him $30 million and 10% ownership of the team. Other recent coaching deals have included a $2 million dollar a year contract for Jimmy Johnson with the Miami Dolphins, and a $1.5 million dollar a year salary for Florida Marlins Manager, Jim Leyland. In the NBA Larry Brown signed a 5 year $25 million dollars deal with the Philadelphia 76s, Larry Bird a 5 year $22.5 million dollar deal with the Indiana Pacers, and Rick Pitino a $70 million dollars 10 year deal with the Boston Celtics(Cotton, 1997)! It is interesting that today the average NBA coach earns about $2.5 million dollars. According to Spiegel, the average major league baseball player earned $1.1 million dollars in 1997, but managers such as Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals earned $1.3 million dollars, and Buck Showalter of the Arizona Diamondbacks was paid $1 million dollars. Seemingly, owners are starting to understand that coaching talent is worth paying for, and that players are more likely to respond to managers and coaches who they view as high or higher on the compensation scale. Of course, just as with star players, coaches have also cashed in on outside endorsement money. Spiegel reports that Pat Riley and Jimmy Johnson earn as much as $50,000 for speeches of which Riley reports doing 12 to 15 a year. In addition Riley is a spokesperson for AT&T and Chevrolet, while Johnson sells Denorex shampoo on television. 

Are Athletics Really a Viable Way to Attain the American Dream?

With the prospects of extraordinary fame and fortune it is no surprise that the dream of many children and adolescents in the United States today is to become a professional athlete. Seemingly, such a career path fulfills the ideal of uniting a vocation with an avocation. To play the sport that one loves, to be paid an extraordinary salary, and to be treated as a celebrity certainly has its appeal. Perhaps, this is even more so for those who inhabit the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder and see insurmountable obstacles to succeeding in other endeavors. While we read and hear about the prodigious success of professional athletes the question arises regarding the viability of professional athletics as a realistic career path? What opportunities really exist? How many positions are available, and how many applicants compete for them? Over what length of time can one reasonably expect to play? What factors might curtail one's athletic career? What opportunities exist once individuals can no longer play? Seemingly, as with any occupation, these are the types of questions that an individual should ponder before pursuing any career path.

Number of Positions. A practical question that a prospective professional athlete needs to ask is, what are one's chances for really making a career out of athletics? By this we mean making a major league roster or earning a living from winnings and endorsements. Arthur Ashe (1977) provided a starting point in answering this question when he calculated approximately 3170 playing positions in the major sports. A more recent estimate by, Eitzen and Sage (1986) for the three major sports was 3300, and if one were to add 200 slots for tennis, 200 slots for golf, and 100 slots for boxing, as Ashe had done, a somewhat more generous estimate would be 3,800. A current scan of web sites of the NFL NHL, NBA, WNBA, ABL, and MLB resulted in the data contained in Table 6 which yielded 4546 playing positions in major team sports. When another 400 tennis and golf positions are added, the total number of professional playing positions comes to 4946.

Table 6. Approximate Number of Playing Position in Major Team Sports.

League

 # of Teams

# of Positions

 NFL

 33

 2335

 MLB

 30

 840

 NHL

 30

 713

 NBA

 29

 401

 WNBA

 10

 160

 ABL

 9

 971

 Total Positions

 

 546

1 Note: As of December 23, 1998 the ABL ceased operations because of financial difficulties eliminating its 97 positions from the tally. (Gloster, 1998). See Adande, (1998) for the effects this has had on players.

Consequently, if we were to use this figure as a starting point, while at the same time considering the thousands of individuals in the United States and abroad vying for these positions, we would immediately realize that only an infinitesimally small percentage will succeed in obtaining a job playing in professional athletics. Eitzen and Sage further show in Table 7 the "funnel-like" opportunity structure for athletes moving from high school to college, and then onto professional sports. Clearly, one can conclude that the chances of making it to the pros, regardless of the level with which one is presently involved is exceedingly small. While estimates of the number of positions in major league sports has increased slightly over time, Leonard and Reyman (1988) estimated that only about 4 in 1,000,000 females will ever become professional athletes, while 7 out of 100,000 males will do so. As Edwards deduces, "Statistically, you have a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite in the next 10 years than getting work as an athlete" (Oates, 1979). In actuality, the probability of a U.S. citizen making it to the pros is probably even less than EdwardsÕ predicted since the number of foreign players interested in competing for positions in the United States is increasing, and was not included in earlier forecasts. From such observations, individuals seeking a professional athletics career would be well advised to prepare themselves for alternative occupations if their dreams do not work out.

Table 7. Chances of Becoming a Professional in Baseball, Football and Basketball (Eitzen and Sage, 1986)

y flashy bonuses for signing, and what appeared to be extraordinary salaries, when averaged out over a lifetime of potential earnings, fell short of earning lesser sums over a longer duration. Today, however, this

 

Sport

 

No. of Positions

 

No. of Rookie Positions

 

No. of High School Players

 

Chances of Making it to Pros

 

No. of College Players

 

Chances of Making it to Pros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Baseball

 600

 100

 400,000

 1 in 4000

 25000

 1 in 250

 Football

 2,400

 250

 600,000

 1 in 3750

 40,000

 1 in 250

 Basketball

 300

 60

 600,000

 1 in 10,000

 17,000

 1 in 280

 

Length of Career. Even if an individual was to secure one of the few positions in professional athletics, data from Eitzen and Sage (1986) shows that the duration of one's playing career is short. On average the length of a career in baseball, football, and basketball is 7.5, 4.5, and 5 years, respectively. Assuming that most professional athletes begin their careers in their late teens or early twenties, this would mean that most retire by their late twenties, or possibly, early thirties. The reason for retirement normally is a result of an athlete's failure to perform either up to standards or at all. Typically, this is a function of such things as declining skill, injury, burnout, some type of self-destructive behavior such as drug or alcohol abuse, or player - coach/owner conflict.

Regardless of the income earned during this relatively short period, and the degree of financial security attained by one's retirement, life after sport is something that should be taken seriously. Large salaries will cease, celebrity status will wane, and the largest portion of one's life remains in the future. For an individual who has been nurtured and coddled by sport from their early years and suddenly finds that his identity and livelihood is terminated at a young age, adjustment to a more normal existence can be difficult. Consequently, retiring athletes will have both financial and psychological life changes with which to contend.

Average Salary (signing bonus). Although professional athletic careers may be short, as previously conveyed, rewards can be substantial. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince athletes to stay in school, get their degree, and then turn "pro." Several years ago the argument could be made that the seemingl

argument is less convincing since many young athletes have either dropped-out of college early or by-passed college altogether, and received contracts that could guarantee a life time of financial security (Klein, 1996).

As an example of this changing climate for young athletes one might contrast the financial compensation of Mickey Mantle with Brien Taylor. In 1949 Mickey Mantle agreed to play Class D ball for Independence, Kansas in the New York Yankees Organization for a salary of $400 plus a signing bonus of $1100 (Mantle and Gluck, 1985). Eight years later, in 1957, after winning the Triple Crown the previous season, Mantle signed a contract for $65,000, and won his second MVP. It was not until 1963, fourteen years into a professional baseball career, that Mickey earned a salary of $100,000. He continued to earn $100,000 until he retired in 1968. While Mantle was a legitimate superstar for most of his career, and among the most highly compensated athletes of his time, his salary alone was not enough to provide financial security for the rest of his life.

In comparison, the same New York Yankees signed a high school pitcher by the name of Brien Taylor in 1991 to a standard $850 a month minor league contract, but also paid him $1.55 million as a signing bonus (Kurkjian, 1991). For an unproven talent, the Yankees paid Brien more money in one year than they paid Mantle in his entire career! Yet, a perusal of baseball salaries over the past few years suggests that Taylor is not an aberration. For example, in 1991 more than 223 players of about 700 in the majors were making a salary of more than $1 million dollars a year, and 32 players were making salaries at or above $3 million (Chase, 1991). In 1998, 317 players of about 750 made $1 million or more, and 149 players made $3 million or more (Daley, 1998). Remarkably, Albert Belle of the White Sox, and Gary Sheffield of the Marlins made $10 million for the season! It is interesting to note that Babe Ruth's $50,000 salary in 1923 would be worth around $390,000 today (Kurkjian, 1991), less than half of what the "run of the mill" major leaguer earned in 1998!

Table 8 shows that the median major league salary in 2004 was $762,500. Even on the low end of the salary range things have improved. In 1985 the minimum salary was $60,000 (New York Times, 1991) and in 2004 it was $300,000 (MSN Sports, 2004)[4]. Consequently, even as a journeyman, players are compensated at a level most Americans never enjoy. In fact, the minimum salary in MLB, represents about six - seven times what the average American earns in one year. Taken as a whole, these data support the point that even the typical non-all-star major leaguer in a career that spans just a few years is likely to earn more in those few years than the average American worker earns in 40 years of work.

Table 8. Median Salary by Team - 2004 (USA Today Salaries Database)

 Baltimore Orioles

 $887,500

 Milwaukee Brewers

 $400,000

 Atlanta Braves

 $737,500

 Houston Astros

 $750,000

 Boston Red Sox

 $3,087,500

 Chicago White Sox

 $775,000

 New York Yankees

 $3,100,000

 Arizona Diamondbacks

 $500,000

 Cleveland Indians

 $325,000

 Florida Marlins

 $600,000

 Texas Rangers

 $550,000

 Philadelphia Phillies

 $2,425,000

 Colorado Rockies

 $575,000

Anaheim Angeles

 $2,150,000

 Chicago Cubs

 $1,550,000

 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

 $650,000

 Toronto Blue Jays

 $825,000

 Kansas City Royals

 $436,250

 Seattle Mariners

 $2,658,333

 Detroit Tigers

 $362,500

 Los Angeles Dogers

 $1,500,000

 Minnesota Twins

 $525,000

 New York Mets

 $900,000

 Cincinnati Red Legs

 $422,500

 St. Louis Cardinals

 $1,100,000

 Oakland Athletics

 $1,357,500

 San Diego Padres

 $862,500

 Pittsburg Pirates

 $350,000

 San Francisco Giants

 $1,000,000

 Montreal Expos

 $350,000

Salaries in the other major sports seem to be keeping pace. The average salary in the NFL in 1990 was $350,000 (New York Times, 1991) while in 2004 it was $1.26 million. At the upper end, linebacker Brian Urlach earns $15.05 million a season. At the lower end salary is dependent on years in the league, but no one makes less than $250,000 a season . Using figures from Table 5, even the lowest paid football players, over a career that lasts only 5 years, would earn more than $1.25 million.

Salaries in the NBA are also quite generous and have grown dramatically in a relatively short time. In 1991, the top 14 rookies made at least 1 million a year (McCallum, 1991). In the same year, Patrick Ewing, the New York Knick's center, negotiated a contract worth 33 million dollars over six years (Anderson, 1991), making him the highest paid player in the major team sports (Brown, 1991). As well, the minimum salary in the NBA for 1991 was $130,000 (Curry, 1991). In 1998, the "rookie cap" limited earnings in a playerÕs first three years to $3 million a year for the first person selected in the draft. The limit was $600,000 for the twenty-ninth player selected. But nine veterans got yearly salaries of $10 million or more, and five players had multiple year deals of $100 million or more (Nance, 1998)![5] It is also true that 160 out of 401 players earned $1 million or less, but the minimum salary was $272,250 (DeCourcy, 1998). Consequently, with an average longevity of 5 years in the league even the most poorly paid players will have earned well over a million dollars by the time they retire. Clearly, the rewards for playing one of the major sports in the United States can be quite substantial, even when one is not a star.

When one contrasts the income earned by Mantle and his peers inside and outside of baseball with those of Belle and his cohorts, it is clear that the rewards of professional athletic stardom have changed dramatically in the past few years. Indeed, an analysis of salaries of the highest paid baseball players by position from 1987 to 1992 shows an increase of 150% (Sports Illustrated, 1992)! Furthermore, when athletes of Mantle's era retired it was normally the case that they needed to find other employment to replace a salary that was no longer paying their bills. With a longevity of 5 or 6 years and much more modest salary scales, the argument to stay in college in order to prepare for life after sports was quite compelling. In fact, one could argue that preparing for a non-sport professional career which paid a modest $25,000 or $30,000 a year, over a forty year career would easily exceed the earnings of some of the more highly paid athletes who had nothing to fall back upon when their playing days had ended. The idea that one could play ball in college while preparing for a more conventional career, play professionally for a few years, and subsequently begin ones "real" work seemed like a sound logical progression.

But today's salaries present a very different scenario. In the era of million dollar signing bonus' and million dollar salaries, an athlete who is able to play out an average 5 or 6 year career will easily earn more money in this short span of time than the non-sport professional earning a respectable $50,000 to $75,000 a year for 40 years. As far as earnings are concerned, the argument to go to or to stay in school for the high profile athlete no longer seems very convincing. Of course there is always the potential for a serious injury or other event resulting in premature career termination, but even then, with the money already in hand an athlete could decide to return to school and still be ahead. The potential for experiencing a serious injury in high school or college athletics provides additional motivation today for professional prospect to negotiate a contract as soon as possible. 

Injury

Perhaps nothing is as devastating to an athletic career that is going well than a career ending injury or illness. While we ponder the interminable contract negotiations and haggling that fill our sports pages, the athlete must get what he can today, since an injury or illness can end a career instantly, and its associated pay days. Our sport's history is rife with examples of prominent athletes succumbing to various debilitating problems in the midst of their quest for fame and fortune. It is also true, as Peter Gent conveys in "North Dallas Forty" (1973), and as a missionary for saneness in professional athletics (Sports Summit, 1998), that athletes are often coerced into playing hurt, and that the cumulative effects of injury over the duration of a career can leave them in chronic pain and unable to perform the normal tasks of daily living when the cheering ends. As a former Dallas Cowboy during the mid to late 1960s, who accumulated a lifetime of injuries in the duration of six years, he now lives the life of an invalid tortured by constant pain from injuries and a plethora of past surgeries.

The stories of baseball pitchers suddenly injuring their arms and enduring a few more years in pain before terminating their careers at an early age are also legion. For example, Smokey Joe Wood won 37 games as a major league pitcher in 1912, with 10 shutouts and 258 strikeouts. Yet, one year later his arm went dead, and Wood was unable to even lift it as high as his shoulder at the ripe old age of 24 (Firmite, 1978). The colorful Dizzy Dean, also a phenomenally successful pitcher, winning 30 games in 1934 at the age of 28, was finished because of an injury to his foot which ultimately affected his throwing motion and shoulder by age 30 (Firmite, 1978). Firmite also reminds us of Paul Pettit, a high school pitching sensation who signed with the Pirates in 1950 for $100,000, a record bonus at that time. But Pettit injured his arm in the minors, and was only able to tally a 1-2 lifetime major league record.

Supernova pitching ace for the Detroit Tigers, Mark Fidrych (a.k.a. "The Bird") is another player who seems to have followed a similar career path suffering an arm injury after a short tenure in the majors (Smith, 1986). For those fortunate enough to have seen Fidrych pitch during the 1976 season they will recall that he was not only an extraordinary pitching talent, but that the enthusiasm he generated, and color he projected made him quite a favorite of fans. In fact, he was so beloved in Detroit that records show that he was responsible for increasing home attendance by 400,000 over the previous season. Indeed, in his dream year, Fidrych was only the second rookie in baseball history to start an All-Star Game. He was 19-9 with a next to last place team, and had the best earned run average of any starting pitcher in major league baseball (2.34). Ironically, he had been a relatively unknown in the minor leagues until 1976, and was only paid a salary of $16,500 during his "dream" year (he did probably earn another $125,000 from endorsements after his popularity increased). Unfortunately, the magic all disappeared for Mark in 1977 after suffering a knee injury during spring training, and then developing shoulder problems that led to his abrupt major league demise. By all standards Fidrych experienced the cruelest exposure to the American sports dream, to be touched by sudden and extraordinary success, and then have it instantaneously taken away. Smith (1986), in an article entitled "The Bird Fell to Earth", portrays a picture of a very likable post baseball 31 year old Fidrych, who appears somewhat haunted by knowing that the one thing he once could do better than just about anyone else was lost to him so swiftly and completely.

While the Mark Fidrych story is of interest, partly because of the type of talent and personality he displayed for the fans, the "flash in the pan" story is not unique, especially in major league baseball (Lidz, 1992). Bob Hazle as a 26 year old rookie hit .403 in 41 games to help the Milwaukee Braves win the pennant in 1957. By 1958 he had been traded to Detroit, and by the end of the season was out of the major leagues forever. Then there was Joe Cowley, who was 21 - 8 in a season and half with the Yankees during 1984 and 1985, but by 1986 he was fumbling, and by 1987, at the age of 28, he too was gone and confused. Super Joe Charboneau of the Cleveland Indians, Rookie of the Year in 1980, batted .289 with 23 homers, was injured in spring training the next season, and was gone from the majors shortly thereafter. Former Red Sox pitcher Rogelio Moret who went 13 - 2 in 1973, and 14 - 3 in 1975, seems to fit a similar pattern, out of baseball by the age of 28 with severe mental problems.

Another Boston Red Sox player who never fulfilled a career that was destined for greatness was outfielder Tony Conigliaro. After being the second youngest player in baseball history to reach the 100 home run mark at 22, he was hit in the left eye with a fast ball thrown by California Angeles pitcher Jack Hamilton on August 17, 1967. This left Conigliaro fighting not only for his career, but for his life. Although he returned to the Red Sox in 1969, he was never the same, and was finished after the 1970 season which he played for the California Angeles. After trying to find a place in baseball for a number of years, he became a broadcaster for the Red Sox in 1981, but suffered a fatal heart attack shortly thereafter. Tony C, as he was known, was dead at age 37 (Cole, 1997). This is an all too familiar scenario which leaves everyone wondering what could have been?

Perhaps no trauma typifies the injury ending athletic career more than that of New England Patriot wide receiver, Darryl Stingley (Stingley and Mulvoy, 1983). In a game against Oakland in 1978 he went up to receive a pass, and was hit in the air by Raider Jack Tatum. When he landed his career was over as he became a quadriplegic. The tragedy of Bo Jackson, who seriously injured his hip in an NFL play-off game, and was forced to terminate his playing career in both football and baseball, also illustrates how sudden an athlete can be on top of the world one day, and gone the next (Kurjian, 1991). As poet A. E. Housman (1896) conveys in his classic "To an Athlete Dying Young", an athlete's fame can be quite fleeting.

In the tennis world, where younger and younger athletes seem to be winning more Grand Prix events, we also can find stories of teenage sensations ending their athletic careers almost before they have really begun. Tracy Austin, ranked Number 1 in the World Tennis Association's computer during the summer of 1980 at age 17, and U.S. Open Champion in 1979 at age 16, and again in 1981, at age 18, suffered back injuries soon thereafter, and never recovered her earlier form. At age 20 the question on peoples minds was whether Tracy Austin would be able to make a come-back (Heldman, 1983)! The promising tennis career of Austin cohort Andrea Jaeger also ended around age 20 because of debilitating shoulder problems. During her mid and late teens Jaeger was ranked third in the world for three of the five years she played as a professional, and won over 1$ million. At 22, while she still loved playing, Andrea noted that she could not even play recreationally without enduring significant pain (Loehr, 1988).

Another great name in sports who was forced to retire because of injury was Larry Bird. At age 35, probably a few years earlier than anticipated, he called it quits because of recurring back problems (McCallum, 1992). In fact, after playing on an entirely different level than all but a handful of his peers for his first 10 seasons, assorted injuries started to slow him down when he was 31. Few would argue that Bird was one of the best to ever play the game of basketball. While he averaged 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals a game, he was always coming up with a way to beat an opposing team, while at the same time lifting the play of his fellow Celtics, having led them to three league championships during the 1980s. While Bird was among the most highly compensated players during his era, and should not have financial worries for the rest of his life, it was sad to see one who had been so great anguish in pain during the last few years of his career while trying to perform feats his body rebelled against. As with many athletic phenoms, he was brilliant throughout his late teens and twenties, but it all ended by his mid thirties.

Perhaps one of the most tragic stories of an injury changing the course of an athlete's career is the case of former basketball great, Bill Walton. Walton, led his Helix High team to 49 straight victories and two district championships, and then went on to UCLA to lead the Bruins to 88 straight victories and two NCAA championships. Along the way, he won three College Player of the Year awards (Papanek, 1979). Within three years of his college graduation (i. e., 1976 - 1977 season ) he led the Portland Trail Blazers to their first NBA championship. Walton was sensational during the year, as he had been in high school and college, and was named the league's MVP (Papanek, 1978). To say that Walton's career and the prospects of the Trail Blazers looked bright, was an understatement. Experts were using the word "dynasty". The next season, however, was the beginning of the end for Walton. After a spectacular start, with the Trailblazers going 50 - 10, Walton began complaining about pain in his left foot. The cause was a mystery to doctors, and was ultimately misdiagnosed. Walton subsequently claimed that he was told by the team physician that his pain was not from a serious injury and could be controlled by the use of Xylocaine. Unfortunately, he acquiesced to the use of this analgesic. Ultimately, Walton suffered a fracture of his left tarsal navicular bone which initiated the demise of his basketball career.

In retrospect he believed that the anesthetizing of his pain with Xylocane, and the pressure to do so by team officials, ultimately led to the fracture that effectively ended his dominance as a player (Papanek, 1979). He was subsequently relegated to the more modest role of journeyman center, and missed more games than he played during the rest of his troubled career as a San Diego Clipper and Boston Celtic. Subsequently, a seriously injured Walton filed a $5.6 million suit against Portland team physician Robert Cook which was ultimately settled outside of court (Wolff, 1982).

Walton's story is noteworthy and tragic because it portrays not only the classic story of the hero falling from grace abruptly, and being relegated to a more humble position, but because it shows how a highly talented and intelligent individual became a pawn of an athletic system that placed money and glory, above the well-being of the individual. To a large extent it was the fans, teammates, and management who pressured Walton to play despite the fact that he claimed he was in pain and really not ready to perform.

For the most part, the athletes mentioned in this section were young, at or approaching the zenith of their careers, and in a short time span, because of injury either were forced to retire as players, or went on to fulfill much lesser roles than they were once capable of performing. It should also be mentioned that in today's world, from a financial standpoint, most individuals probably remain better off than the average person since they often received multimillion dollar bonuses, or had at least one or two highly paid seasons. Nonetheless, their fall from stardom must have had at least a psychological cost since their demise was so rapid and so complete.

Disease

While career ending injuries in athletics are fairly common, diseases which lead to the termination of an athletic career are noteworthy since athletes are normally a buoyant population of young and healthy individuals. Nonetheless, in athletic careers which require performance at the highest level, diseases which might be limiting to people in more mundane occupations, can often result in the end of one's playing days. In a number of cases, serious disease has cut down athletes who appeared indestructible. Examples demonstrate not only the fragility of the professional athlete's career, but show us that the superhuman qualities we often attribute to prominent athletes can quickly be neutralized by the insidious afflictions to which we are all susceptible.

Lou Gehrig, the legendary New York Yankee first baseman, provides the quintessential example of a prominent athlete being stricken by a career ending and life threatening disease. As Noonan (1988) stated:

Lou Gehrig lived the kind of life millions of American men have dreamed about, a life of spectacular accomplishment on the baseball field. It was an exciting life, filled with home runs and World Series games and shared with such fellow New York Yankee legends as Babe Ruth, Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Bill Dickey and Joe Dimaggio (p. 113).

Gehrig's most defining qualities were of endurance, consistency, and excellence. To achieve this, he played with broken fingers, pulled muscles, and back pain (Noonan, 1988). His record for consecutive games played (recently broken by Cal Ripkin Jr.) ended on May 2, 1939, having begun fourteen years earlier on June 1, 1925. Gehrig, the "Ironman" of baseball, who held the record for playing in the most consecutive games (i.e., 2130) was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and died on June 2, 1941, just two weeks prior to his thirty-eighth birthday (Gallagher and Gallagher, 1990) and 16 years after he began his incredible consecutive games playing streak. He had a career batting average of .340, and more miraculously, he had more than 100 RBIs for 13 consecutive years, and more than 150 RBIs in seven of those years! On June 3, 1932, Gehrig even hit four home runs in one game! As Noonan (1988) points out, this record is even more extraordinary when one considers that Gehrig batted fourth behind Babe Ruth for many of his playing years. Yet, as Noonan (1988) notes, "Gehrig's career was one of great seasons, great games, great moments" (p. 116). Clearly, Gehrig was a superstar by any day's standards, but his end came remarkably quickly and too soon.

Even more sadly, the disease which killed Lou Gehrig first robbed him of his coordination, and strength, leaving him virtually helpless. By any standards such a disease is horrific, but to one who had such extraordinary physical capacity the prognosis he received, at age 35, from the Mayo Clinic, on June 19, 1939 must have been all the more devastating. It seems somewhat ironic that on Lou Gehrig Day, July 4, 1939, Gehrig said to a crowd of 61,808 at Yankee Stadium that he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Apparently, his life in sport was so fulfilling that at the age of 35 he concluded that even if he accomplished no more in his life, the quality of the experiences he had already had was more than enough for him to live out the rest of his days in peace.

Another individual, of lesser stature than Gehrig, cut down in the prime of his athletic career was Chicago Bear's fullback Brian Piccolo. After having played college football at Wake Forest, where he held ACC and national titles for rushing (1,044 yards), he signed with the Chicago Bears, and played with them from 1964 through part of 1968. During the 1968 season he developed chronic pulmonary problems and was diagnosed with lung cancer. Piccolo died on June 16, 1970, at age 26, after a courageous battle (Morris, 1971). Seemingly, Brian Piccolo was in the midst of attaining his athletic dream of establishing himself as a legitimate player in the NFL when he was, suddenly and tragically, cut down. While his story is about strength, dignity and courage in a battle against death, it seems clear that Piccolo as a football player still had goals to reach. It is also probably true that his best days as a wage earner had not yet been realized.

More recently we have observed Magic Johnson reporting at a news conference on November 7, 1991 that he was infected with the HIV Virus and was retiring immediately from the Los Angeles Laker's (Stevenson, 1991). Magic, like Lou Gehrig, was an established superstar, having led his Michigan State team to an NCAA championship in 1979, and the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles between 1980 and 1990. Magic also won the NBAs MVP three times, and was the league's all-time leader in assists (Brown, 1991). Along the way he had also acquired significant wealth from lucrative playing contracts and wise investments (Hoffer, 1990). Nonetheless, Magic's career as a player was not only shortened significantly, but terminated so abruptly that the public was jolted. While somewhat speculative, various television interviews with him seemed to project a man at peace with himself, and fairly content with having achieved as much as he had in the athletic realm. Still, as an athlete at age 32, Magic Johnson, perhaps the premier NBA player of the 1980s, excluding short-term appearances, such as in the 1992 All Star Game or Barcelona Olympics, was forced to retire at the peak of his athletic career.

Other examples exist of disease terminating flourishing athletic careers. Years earlier Arthur Ashe's tennis career was suddenly cut short by a heart attack as was that of New York Knickerbocker Dave Stallworth. J. R. Richard, Houston Astro pitching sensation, was incapacitated by a stroke in the prime of his career (Nack, 1980). Hank Gathers, college basketball sensation from Loyola Maramount University, never got his chance to play in the NBA, as he died of a coronary while on the court (Altman, 1990).

Perhaps, one of the most bizarre and striking instances of an established professional athlete terminating his career and life from disease while at his prime was 27 year old Reggie Lewis, NBA all-star and captain of the Boston Celtics. On March 24 during the 1992-93 season he had suffered a spell of dizziness in a game against the Miami Heat, and on April 29 Reggie collapsed in a play-off game against the Charlotte Hornets. He died at a casual shoot around at the Brandeis University Gymnasium on July 27. Strangely, Lewis had been examined by three teams of cardiologists after his fainting incident, and diagnoses ranged from the innocuous neurocardiogenic syncop to the potentially lethal ventricular arrhythmia which had killed Hank Gathers a few years earlier (Swift, 1993). At the time of ReggieÕs death medical teams were divided on his diagnosis and prognosis, and he was not cleared to play in strenuous competition. Prior to his fatal heart attack he was casually shooting baskets. In the end, one wonders about the degree to which Reggie being a high profile professional athlete contributed to his continued need to play basketball, and the medical communityÕs equivocal findings. As aptly stated by Kevin McHale, one of ReggieÕs teammates

It's not like Reggie was in a car accident. The real tragedy is that right now we should be sitting around saying, 'Reggie has a pacemaker and can't play basketball, and that's really sad.' Instead, we have to sit and mourn him.(Swift, 93, p. 20)

Clearly, the same medical problems that plague society at large, affect our athletic heroes and heroines. Heart disease, cancer, AIDS, and other blights such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis do not differentiate between those of us who appear to be mere mortals, and those who have become athletic superstars. The latter may appear to be a race apart from the norm, but are prone to the same afflictions as the rest of us. At any rate, the humbling affects of such misfortune probably has a greater effect on athletes than the average worker, since athletic prowess normally assumes an optimally functioning body. Consequently, diseases of various types can lead to the abrupt termination of a stellar career. As well, these examples reinforce the point that athletic stardom is often fleeting with many unforeseen obstacles that can terminate a career, and often oneÕs life, without much warning. 

Accident.

Another sudden and unexpected way in which an athletic career may be terminated is a consequence of accidents outside of the playing arena. Professional athletes not only spend a great amount of time commuting to performance sites around the nation and world, but often make non-playing appearances at diverse locales, as a result of their sport related prominence. It is probably not the case that prominent athletes suffer a greater propensity of serious accidents than people in other professions, but this is another unpredictable means by which careers have ended prematurely.

Brooklyn Dodger great and three time National League MVP, Roy Campenella, was incapacitated and paralyzed, by an automobile accident in 1958 (Silver, 1958). Campenella, at 36 years of age, perhaps past his prime as a player, still was a significant factor in the Doger's lineup. At the time of his accident, he was driving home late at night on icy streets from an interview he had given hours before. The brilliant career of an extraordinary and beloved athlete ended abruptly on impact.

In contrast to the rumblings of current multimillionaire players who complain that they will not play unless they get every cent they think they are worth, "Campy," as he was called, typified the quintessential adult-child who played for the love of the game, and did not lament about "all that he deserved" to be paid. Daley (1958), in a tribute to Campy, relates an anecdote that makes us nostalgic for the days when we perceived our sports heroes as players, and not multinational conglomerates. He conveys that prior to one season, the then Brooklyn Dodger vice president, Buzzy Bavasi, offered a blank contract to Campy. The notion was for Roy to fill in the blank where salary was to be entered. Apparently, this was an old front-office trick that was believed to put ballplayers on the defensive, deflating their demands, and getting them to sign for a smaller sum than if each side negotiated with one another. Campy signed the contract, and handed it back to Bavasi blank, and then said:

Let's not kid around. You know that I'll play no matter what you give me. I'll play for nothin' if I have to. You can write in the numbers yourself. (p. 20).

While, today, some might think that Campy was naive, he was, according to Daley, always handsomely rewarded. Yet, Daley also noted that he was still underpaid for the non-tangible contributions he made to his team, and to the game of baseball. As might be expected of someone with such a love of the game, he was overheard to say one evening:

There ain't gonna be no retiring with me. They'll have to cut the uniform off my back. (p. 20).

Unfortunately, while he had a Hall of Fame playing career, was beloved by teammates and fans, and had good prospects for becoming the first black coach in the major leagues, everything came apart for Campy one night on a winding and slippery road, one and a half miles from his home in Glen Cove, New York.

Another prominent baseball star to be cut down by an accident was Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente. During his 18 year career he had won the National League batting championship four times, was named to the All-Star team 12 times and in 1966 won the league's MVP (Daley, 1973). As well, he batted over .300 in 13 seasons, had a lifetime batting average of .317, and was only the 11th man to get 3,000 hits. Roberto was a significant factor in Pittsburgh's world championships in 1960, and 1971, being chosen as world series MVP in the latter with a .414 batting average. According to Daly (1973):

Roberto was the complete ballplayer. He did everything extraordinarily well. He could run, throw, field, hit and hit with power. These are the five ingredients on which players are rated and the Pirate outfielder ranked at or near the top in each. (p. 37).

Ironically, Clemente was the same age as Lou Gerhig when he died, 37. He, and Gerhig were also the only major league baseball players to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in which the five year post career waiting period was waived.

While many superstar athletes are remembered only in relationship to their achievements on the playing field or court, Roberto Clemente, athlete extraordinaire, is remembered as much for his egalitarian social beliefs and humanitarian actions. In many ways, Clemente was truly worthy of the hero status we so liberally award to our great athletes. Indeed, his death was the result of a mission Roberto had organized to provide aid to the victims of an earthquake that had damaged much of Managua, Nicaragua. As chairman of a campaign to supply victims with money, food, and clothing, he was distressed to learn that initial aid shipments were being stolen by Nicaraguan soldiers who were selling them to victims for profit. Clemente decided to personally put a stop to this egregious practice by accompanying a shipment of supplies departing on New Years Eve, 1972 (Kahn, 1977). Unfortunately, the plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and Roberto was killed.

Clemente was also an advocate for black and Latin players. While he was a legitimate superstar, albeit playing in Pittsburgh, rather than in a more visible locale such as New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, he was critical of the lack of endorsements given to black and Latin players. He often noted that only companies from his native Puerto Rico offered him endorsements. Nonetheless, money that he did earn through this means he gave to charities. Clemente was a national hero in Puerto Rico. He made many public appearances, visited hospitals, and was even awarded an honorary Doctorate of Education from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico (Blout, 1988). Perhaps Roberto's ultimate dream was Ciudad Deportiva (i.e., Sports City). This project was to be a sports camp for underprivileged boys. As well, Clemente wished to make sports a part of family life, and to teach children about the evils of materialism (Krish, 1989). He stated: "I like to get kids together and talk about the importance of sports, the importance of being a good citizen, the importance of respecting their parents" (Caceres, 1973, p. 115). Clemente believed that children could be educated through sports to become good citizens and make a success of their lives just as he had done. Unfortunately, sports city was more of a dream than a reality during Roberto's life, but his death stimulated a movement to complete the vision. Today, twenty years after Clemente's death, kids are playing baseball, basketball, and tennis, swimming, painting, and doing ceramics at Sports City (Kaplan, 1987).

While Roberto Clemente seems to have fulfilled his athletic dreams during his short life, he still had many unfinished projects to do, which seemingly would have been successful because of the prominence which he had achieved first through athletics, and then as a humanitarian. The fact that his dream of building a sports city for children was ultimately accomplished after his death is a clear tribute to his life. Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn eulogized Roberto quite aptly in stating:

Somehow Roberto transcended superstardom. His marvelous playing skills rank him among the truly elite. And what a wonderfully good man he was. Always concerned about others. He had about him a touch of royalty (Goldpaper, 1973, p.48).

Other examples of accidents outside of the athletic arena that have terminated athletic careers include the airplane accidents which killed the entire U.S. figure skating team in 1961 (Montville, 1990), the Evansville University Basketball team in 1977 (Smith, 1997), and New York Yankee Captain Thurman Munson in 1979 (Heyman, 1993) . More recently, Cleveland Indian players Tim Crews and Steve Olin were killed in a freak boating accident (Smith, 1993). These examples, once again, reinforce the points that athletes are not immune from the types of tragedies to which all people are susceptible. But excessive travel demands, mobile lifestyles, and various pressures to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities may be contributory to their earlier than expected demise.

 Drugs

In the last few years society at large seems to have been in the midst of a drug epidemic. Consequently, as sport seems to mirror American life, there is no reason to believe that athletes would be immune from the insidious consequences of drug abuse. In the quest to run faster, jump higher, and exert greater force athletes would seem particularly susceptible to experimenting with and suffering from the unforeseen side effects of so-called "performance enhancing drugs". As well, the pressures of competition and travel, combined with large discretionary incomes, often creates a climate in which recreational drugs may thrive.

Perhaps the case which has impacted the sports world more than any other in the past few years is that of Len Bias, the former University of Maryland basketball star. On June 19, 1986, only two days after being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, Bias was found dead in his room at the University of Maryland from an overdose of cocaine (Neff and Selcraig, 1986). Bias appeared to be the classic All-American athlete, who would have had a career destined to bring him vast wealth and fame. Indeed, during the prior two days before his demise, Bias had a hand shake agreement for a $1.6 million contract to endorse Reebok shoes, and an impending NBA contract was sure to be worth millions. Instead, Bias died without life insurance, and without any written endorsement or basketball contracts. In fact, Bias left his parents with $21,000 of debts.

While Bias' story is tragic, we subsequently learned that in many ways he typified the "non-student athlete" which many universities recruited over the years, and have recently come under increasing pressure to preclude from enrollment. Neff and Selcraig (1986) reported that after his final basketball season Bias had been dismissed from the University of Maryland for academic reasons, having flunked or withdrawn from all five of his classes during the spring semester. Seemingly, poor academic standing was not an aberration to the basketball team at Maryland, as it was reported that in the Fall of 1984, the team collectively had a 1.48 GPA, and that during the previous 15 years only 4 players had a B average for an entire academic year. Furthermore, between 1980 and 1985, 15 of 19 basketball recruits did not meet the universities standard admission requirements, with a combined SAT average of 670, 355 points under the university average, and 30 points below 700, subsequently established by the NCAA under proposition 48 as a minimum for a student-athlete to be awarded a scholarship. Besides the observation that basketball players at Maryland appeared to be recruited first and foremost to play basketball, it was also revealed that 20.% of the student body reported that they had used cocaine at least once during the past year.

The Len Bias episode seemingly impacted big time college athletics in general. Len's father, James, was quite critical of the system which he largely faulted for his son's death. James claimed that Maryland had been "negligent" in taking care of his son by emphasizing that performance on the court was more important than performance in the classroom, and that the University was merely exploiting athletes, like his son, in order to make money. Neff and Selcraig (1986) reported that $1.75 million of the athletic department's $7.5 million budget was generated by the basketball program.

The obvious question that needs to be asked is who is responsible for LenÕs death and the system that has produced this tragedy? Len's coach, Lefty Driessell wound up resigning, as did athletic director Dick Dull. The University subsequently did a number of investigations and changed various policies. Yet, one can not but help wonder what responsibility also lies with the victim? Nonetheless, the Len Bias episode is a classic case of an individual who could have had it all but faltered just as his dream was within grasp.

An individual who succeeded in the pros, only to have his life cut short because of drug abuse, was Lyle Alzado (Alzado, 1991). He played for 15 years as a defensive end in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, and Los Angeles Raiders. Lyle, was also All-Pro twice, and an important member of the victorious 1983 Raider Superbowl team. Yet , at age 42, 6 years after retiring, Alzado said that:

I wobble when I walk and sometimes have to hold on to somebody. You have to give me time to answer questions, because I have trouble remembering things. IÕm down to 215 pounds, 60 less than I weighed just a few months ago . . . I've been in chemotherapy at the UCLA Medical Center, and have done pretty well. (p. 21).

Yet, at age 43, eleven months later Alzado was dead (Thomas Jr., 1992). According to the diagnosis, he died of an extremely rare form of brain cancer called T-cell lymphoma. What happened to this ferocious 300 pound giant? Was he just one of the unlucky few who succumb to such a rare disease, or was there more to it?

While no one really knows for sure what caused Alzado's death, Lyle believed his cancer was caused by years of drug abuse. Alzado claimed that he started taking anabolic steroids in 1969, and never stopped, not even when he retired. He also took human growth hormone. At times, he said that these drugs cost him as much as $20,000 to $30,000 a year. His team physician, Robert Huizenga (Stevenson, 1991), acknowledged that anabolic steroids can cause liver and prostate cancer. As well, other doctors note that anabolic steroids can suppress the immune system, leaving individuals vulnerable to such rare forms of cancer as T-cell lymphoma.

At the conclusion of his account, Alzado claimed that if he knew then how sick all of these drugs would ultimately make him, he would have tried to pursue football on his own without such body building and temperament altering aids. Yet, one wonders whether the immediate allure of stardom would have still been too great a motivation for him to worry about physical consequences 15 years hence? Alzado seemed a bit inconsistent as he stated: "I'm convinced that my biggest mistake was never going off cycle" (p. 24). Clearly, this suggests that he believes that had his method of drug administration been sounder, he may not have suffered as he had. Regardless of whether he took too much, of too many drugs, for too long, and whether his illness was a function of taking these performance enhancing drugs or not, moral arguments for not taking them are absent from his analysis. Perhaps this is so since taking performance enhancing drugs has become a normal part of football culture (e.g., Yaeger and Looney, 1993; Huizenga, 1994)

In any event, Lyle Alzado represents an individual who found his dream in professional athletics for a reasonably long time period (i. e., 15 years), only to have subsequently learned that the drugs he believed made him a success, were inevitably the cause of the disease which took his life at such a young age. Again, we can ask who is at fault for the demise of such a talented athlete? From his accounts, and those of his physician, it seems that coaches, players, team physicians, and management had to know that Lyle Alzado was on steroids, despite passing league mandated drug tests. Furthermore, his story suggests that a great many other players were also involved with multiple drugs used in a variety of combinations. Once again, it appears that the pressures of a system that prizes winning above all, can lead to tragic ends. Alzado, as others, should have known better, but as he conveyed:

I was so wild about winning. It's all I cared about, winning, winning. All I thought about. I never talked about anything else. (p. 24).

While Alzado may have been a bit extreme in his quest to win, such thinking is not out of line with what other athletes say about what they would do in order to win. Goldman ( Bamberger & Yaeger, 1997) has conducted a survey of athletes every two years since 1982, asking the question: "You are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance that comes with two guarantees: (1) You will not be caught, (2) You will win every competition you enter for the next five years, and then you will die from the side effects of the substance. Would you take it?" More than half the athletes surveyed normally say that they would take the drug! While such a substance does not exist, many surveys and anecdotal reports suggest that athletes are willing to experiment with a variety of drugs and concoctions in order to get an edge on their competitors, despite personal consequences. Hence, there may be many more Alzados out there willing to trade short-term athletic success for their long-term future health.

Another prominent athlete who became a victim of his own unbridled quest for victory was sprinter Ben Johnson. Prior to the Seoul Olympics of 1988, Johnson had set the world record for the 100 meters dash (9.83 seconds). But he had lost in a pre-Olympic meet in Zurich to arch rival Carl Lewis, and then again in Cologne four days later without Lewis in the field (Johnson and Moore, 1988). Interestingly, after the Zurich meet, Johnson passed a drug test. Nonetheless, one unnamed source reported by Sports Illustrated stated:

All they had to do was get him to run 20 more meters, and training would do that. But I think they saw he wasn't ready, they panicked. I fear for his liver now. (Johnson and Moore, 1988, p. 24).

While still somewhat of a mystery, speculation has it that sometime after these meets Johnson was administered stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. A few days prior to the 100 meter race in Seoul, an American coach in seeing Johnson remarked:

His eyes were so yellow with his liver working overtime processing steroids that I said he's crazy or he's protected with an insurance policy [meaning that he might have believed that for some reason tests for steroids would be negative (Johnson and Moore, 1988, p. 24).

As the story goes, Johnson's physician, Dr. Astaphan, was said to have bragged that the Americans and Soviets did not have the capability of using illegal performance enhancing drugs without them being detected. But, he asserted that the Bulgarian team doctors did, and that he could do the same for Ben Johnson.

In any event, on that dark day in Seoul, Ben Johnson beat Carl Lewis by .13 of a second in the 100, setting a new world record (9.79), and received the Olympic Gold Medal. He, and the other three top finishers, were then routinely tested for drugs and Johnson's sample was found to have stanozolol. Shortly thereafter, the International Olympic Committee declared the results of the 100 meter race null, stripped Johnson of the gold medal, and declared Carl Lewis the winner. While Johnson denied having taken steroids, he left the games immediately, and was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (i.e., the world governing body for track and field) from participating in international meets for two years.

It has been estimated Ben Johnson's two year ban from international track competition cost him about $2 million in bonuses for winning the 100 meters dash in Seoul (Collingwood, 1988). As well, he also lost endorsement income that was in the neighborhood of $10 million (Finlayson and Tedesco, 1988). Unfortunately, Ben Johnson was found to be using steroids again during a meet in Montreal in 1993, and was suspended for life by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. Unless overturned, Johnson has probably lost his ultimate quest for a gold medal in the 100 meters. Seemingly, Ben Johnson reached his athletic dream, an Olympic gold medal, and a victory over rival Carl Lewis, but just about as fast as the race was run, the dream dissolved and became a nightmare.

Again, one might ponder why he decided to take the drug route? Seemingly, the argument that drugs are unhealthful, that they are illegal, and that to use them is really unethical pales when contrasted with the observation that with them one can be a hero, set records, and gain fame and fortune. As Lipsyte (1991) infers, Ben Johnson taught us that drugs really due enhance performance, but you can also get caught. Lipsyte also conveys that medical technology will probably provide better and less detectable ways to enhance performance in the future, and unless the discussion about drugs is elevated to a moral level, the future of athletic records may fall under the aegis of the bio-chemical researcher, geneticist and physician, rather than the athlete and coach.

From these examples of great athletes, in one way or another destroying themselves from using drugs either recreationally, as in the case of Len Bias, or as performance enhancers in the chronicles of Lyle Alzado and Ben Johnson, we learn that despite their extraordinary athletic achievements and concomitant rewards of fame and fortune, they too are mere mortals, subject to the same biological and legal restrictions to which the rest of society must abide. As is typically the case, great individuals normally have more than great talent, they have strong character. Unfortunately, these individuals played a large part in demolishing their own dreams, and illustrating to the rest of us that drugs and athletics are a dangerous mixture.

Psychological Distress

While the rewards are great for those who achieve athletic stardom, so too are the psychological pressures to succeed, and to maintain one's standing. To develop exceptional prowess in sport requires participants to devote many hours acquiring skills and developing concomitant physiological capabilities. Often individuals seeking fame and fortune in athletics become so focused in attaining excellence, they forsake other aspects of their development, leaving themselves with few options to fall back on if a career in professional athletics does not materialize. This has been the basis for ongoing arguments against inner city youth trying to emulate models of athletic superstars, since so few will actually attain this status, and so many will find themselves ultimately without alternate career options (e.g., Ashe, 1977; Edwards, 1986). The unfortunate case of Anthony Sherrod seems to portray the seductive properties of exclusively seeking one's dreams through athletics, and the devastation that exists for those who fail (Newman, 1990).

Sherrod's story is probably not atypical. He was a small town basketball hero at Jenkins County High in Millen, Georgia where he held the career scoring record of 1,382 points. At 6'7", and talented, he was expected to go on to become a college star. Sherrod was recruited by many colleges and finally decided on Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, upon arriving there he soon found that other players were as talented, if not more so. As a freshman he only averaged 4.42 minutes a game, and scored just 49 points during his first two seasons with the Yellow Jackets. Following his sophomore year the coach, Bobby Cremins, suggested that he transfer to a smaller school where he could probably get more opportunity to play. But his pride did not allow him to leave Georgia Tech. Instead, Anthony wound up his college career averaging 3.2 points and 2.0 rebounds a game.

Yet, according to friends, even after a less than average college career, he still could not let the dream of playing in the NBA go. Sherrod claimed that he did not get a fair chance at Tech. After his eligibility expired, he continued to pursue his degree, but would get up at 5 or 6 a.m. and run, lift weights, and then play basketball all day, hoping to get a tryout with a professional team.

As Newman (1990) tells the story, Anthony was in his last semester (after his eligibility had ended) with 9 hours of classes remaining to take in order to graduate in June. He sat watching his former team on television playing against UNLV in the Final Four. This was the dream of all college players, and one he had never experienced. His own life was in disarray. Mounting bills, a newborn baby, and academic problems that could possibly prevent him from graduating were on his mind. As well, he had recently had an acute manic episode for which he was hospitalized, and was prescribed various drugs for mood control. While it is hypothesized that Anthony's psychological problems may have had a genetic etiology, it is also suggested that life stress exacerbated oscillations in his mood states. In any event, on April 13, Good Friday, the 23 year old Sherrod shot and killed himself with a .357 Magnum.

Why did Anthony do this? One can only speculate. But, in this story we see an immature individual who has tasted athletic stardom at a young age, and believed that in time he would progress up the athletic pyramid to become a college star, and then an NBA player. While his college career was less than spectacular, he continued to have dreams of moving on to the professional ranks, despite his lackluster performance, and discouragement from his coach. As one college teammate stated : "When an athlete's four years are up and he doesn't make the pros, he becomes a nobody" (Newman, 1990, p. 56). Judging from the description of events that led to Anthony's demise, it appears that he was never willing to let the dream of being a professional go, and get on with his life. Consequently, when things did not happen as planned, his world came apart, and suicide must have appeared as a viable solution. In essence, AnthonyÕs identity was as a basketball player, and when this roll no longer availed itself to him, he was lost. His propensity for large mood swings was a contributing factor.

Another individual who did make it to the pros, garner the rewards of superstardom, but experienced the same end as Anthony Sherrod, possibly for similar reasons, was pitcher Donnie Moore. Moore was a high school pitching sensation from Lubbock, Texas who was originally signed in 1973 by the Chicago Cubs, and given a $50,000 bonus (The Sporting News, 1989). In 1975 he reached the major leagues, but spent the next 8 years shuttling back and forth to the minors. Finally, in 1983, Moore won a regular position as a relief pitcher with the Atlanta Braves. Having experienced success in this role, the California Angels selected him from the Brave's roster in January of 1985 out of the free-agent compensation pool. In 1985, Donnie Moore had his best year as a pitcher serving as the Angel's relief ace, making 65 appearances, closing 57 games, and getting 31 saves. This was a club record, and amongst the best years historically for any major league relief pitcher. He also was selected for the American League All -Star Team and pitched two scoreless innings. After the 1985 season, Moore became a free-agent, but signed once again with the Angels for $3 million dollars over a 3 year period (The Sporting News, 1989).

Unfortunately, 1986 was not to be the sterling year that 1985 had been. Moore experienced a series of physical problems, including right shoulder and rib cage injuries (Feldman, 1990). Consequently. he wound-up spending a month of the season on the disabled list, but nevertheless, managed to appear in 45 games and ended with a respectable record of 21 saves. Yet, the critical event leading to the downward spiral in Donnie Moore's career and life, ending in Moore shooting his wife three times, and fatally shooting himself, was the result of one pitch! During the fifth game of the championship play-off series in 1986, Donnie Moore was called in to stop a Boston Red Sox rally in the top of the ninth inning. With the Angels ahead 3 games to 1, and leading by a score of 5 to 4, with 2 outs, and a count of 2 balls and 2 strikes on Dave Henderson (one strike away from the Angels being in the World Series for the first time), Moore gave up a two run homerun (Neff, 1989). The Angels tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, but Moore later gave up a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning which gave the Red Sox a 7 - 6 victory. The series returned to Boston, where the Red Sox won the remaining two games, eliminating the Angels from going on to play the Mets in the World Series. That one pitch in Game 5 was not forgotten by the fans or by Donnie Moore/

In 1987 the cheers turned to jeers, and various ailments resulted in his being placed on the disabled list for 10 weeks. A dismal 1988 season, led to his release in August. Dave Pinter, his agent, noted that after games in which he was booed, Moore would come home and cry. He made a final comeback attempt in 1989 by trying out for the Omaha Royals, a Kansas City triple A farm club, but was released in June (The Sporting News, 1989). Thus, Donnie Moore had in the course of a four year time period gone from the heights of being a premier, all-star relief pitcher with the California Angels, to the debts of not being able to earn a position with a minor league team. He had gone from making a million dollars a year and living in an $850,000 dream house with a loving family, friends, and fans to an unemployed baseball pitcher, with little or no income, financial debts (e.g., a claim against him by his agent for $75,000 was pending), marital troubles, bouts of depression, and as Reggie Jackson, a teammate conveyed, no direction.

Analysis of his demise by those who knew him all seem to start with that one pitch. Dave Pinter, Moore's agent stated: "I think insanity set in. He could not live with himself after Henderson hit the home run. He kept blaming himself" (Lev, 1989, p. B12). Pinter also stated that just 3 hours prior to the suicide, he had urged Moore to get psychological help, believing that Moore was still tormented by the play-off game in 1986.

While the Donnie Moore story is sad, it is not unique. Loren Coleman (Neff, 1989), an expert on suicide, has noted that Moore's death appears to be a classic case of baseball suicide. He claims that such individuals ". . . get to the big leagues, something happens - an injury or a bad season - their career ends, and they have no safety net, no way of coping" (p. 10). Coleman also found that 45% of the 78 baseball players or former players, who were reported to have taken their own lives were pitchers, inferring that this position is particularly stressful. Berkow (1989), viewing Donnie Moore's plight through the eyes of Bruce Gardner, another pitcher who killed himself, but left a suicide note, printed the last paragraph from Gardner's note:

I saw life going downhill every day and it shaped my attitude toward everything and everybody. Everything and every feeling that I visualized with my earned and rightful start in baseball was the focal point of continuous failure. No pride of accomplishment, no money, no home, no sense of fulfillment, no attraction. A bitter past, blocking any accomplishment of a future except age. (p. 2S)

A more recent episode of athletic depression leading to suicide is contained in the story of Katrina Price, a former ABL player (Caldwell, 1999). After being a college star at Stephen F Austin College, she failed to make a WNBA team, but was subsequently drafted by the Long Beach Sting Rays. After they folded, she was sent to the Philadelphia Rage, but only managed to average 2.7 points per game as a reserve. When the ABL folded, she realized that making a WNBA would be a challenge, and that her dreams of being a professional athlete were quickly fading, and she was not ready for her basketball career to end so abruptly. On Jan. 23, 1999 Katrina Price, age 23, was found dead in her apartment of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Her college coach, Royce Chadwick said afterwards, "If you gave me the names of 25 kids, Katrina would be the last one I'd expect to do something like this" (Cook, & Mravic, 1999). Judging from her background, it appeared that she did have more than a basketball career going for her. She was well liked and nicknamed "Sugar" because of her sweetness and charm. Many considered her a role model. As well, Katrina was on the Dean's list every semester in college, was an academic all-American, and had returned to Stephen F. Austin part time to work on a Master's degree in hopes of finding a coaching job when her playing days were over.

The examples of Anthony Sherrod, Donnie Moore, and Katrina Price show us that the allure of finding the American Dream through athletics, for some, can be devastating when alternative options are not planned. In Sherrods case, he never was good enough to make it to the pros or even excel in college, and saw no other career alternatives. Moore, on the other hand, made the big time, and became a star, but as is normally the case, stardom is fleeting. He typified the saying that "todayÕs hero is tomorrows goat." Apparently, he not only held himself responsible for the Angels not making it to the world series in 1986, but so did the fans. For Moore to loose perspective and direction only compounded the problems of adjusting to retirement from baseball. Katrina Price remains an enigma. She was multidimensional, had many things going for her, and was planning for life after sport. But, few realized how important involvement as an athlete was to her at the moment that opportunities for continuing were quickly fading. Consequently, the lesson learned from these athletes is that pursuit of the dream is dangerous, and if one is talented and lucky enough to realize it, he/she should beware that the time will come when superstardom disappears, and a more realistic lifestyle needs to be lived. As conveyed by Segrave (1993),

...sport offers a world of social, moral, and emotional simplicity, a world focused on the themes of youth, and that as a cultural hero-system sport can, at worst, infantilize those who seek to derive sense and meaning from it (p. 182).

Perhaps, the "premature" retirement of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, at age 30, typifies how fame and fortune are not necessarily what they have been rumored to be. As stated by Klein (1993),

Mike seemed to be saying that he didn't want to be like Mike anymore, or at least, like the Mike whose every movement was recorded by a pesky press and followed by an adoring, intrusive public (p. A12).

Klein notes that although our culture tends to reward "the talented, beautiful or, sometimes, merely intriguingly odd among us with riches beyond imagining" the price of surrendering one's privacy or life to an admiring, or simply curious, public is often more than an individual is able to tolerate. While Jordan subsequently returned to the NBA, and reestablished himself quickly as the leagueÕs premier player, his need to take a sabbatical illustrates how even the most famous athlete on the planet is subject to the psychological stress and burnout that is associated with the inordinate demands placed on our athletic superstars.

Physical Assault

Physical assault comes in many varieties within sports. Sometimes players loose their poise in the heat of competition and simply attack one another because of frustration from being thwarted in achieving their goals. Sometimes aggression is perpetrated against players by fans who see a particular athlete impeding the standing of a favorite. We have also seen aggression perpetrated against an athlete by cohorts of a competitor wishing to gain an advantage in an impending competition. More recently, we have also observed aggression by a player against his coach. In all these instances, aggression resulted in negative consequences to recipients and perpetrators.

Perhaps the assault that remains in the memory of basketball historians more than any other was the punch thrown by Los Angeles Lakers forward Kermit Washington that landed in the face of Houston Rocket all-star Rudy Tomjanovich, on Dec. 9, 1977. The bizarre incident occurred when Tomjanovich was attempting to break-up a fight between teammate Kevin Kunnert and Washington. Tomjanovich, unfortunately, was mistakenly perceived by Washington to be moving toward him in order to assist Kunnert. Washington suddenly turned and landed a crushing blow to Tomjanovich. The result of the punch included : (a) a fractured jaw, (b) a broken nose, (c) a fractured skull, (d) facial lacerations, (e) a brain concussion, (f) leakage of spinal fluid from the brain cavity, and (g) damage to both eyes (Attner, 1978). Tomjanovich was out for the remainder of the season, and Washinton was suspended for two months and fined $10,000, the highest penalty to date in league history. From the many reports, Tomjanovich really suffered physically from the injury, ultimately requiring three surgeries to repair the extensive damage to his face and head (Rosen, 1978). Tomjanovich and the Rockets ultimately went on to sue the Lakers for $4.4 million dollars, and were awarded $3.2 million dollars by a jury in Houston in 1979 (UPI, 1981). According to Attner (1978), this was WashingtonÕs best season in the NBA. He had recovered from a leg injury from the previous year, was among the leagues rebounding leaders, and was gaining confidence as he received more playing time. A decade later McCallum (1987) notes that after his retirement from basketball in 1982, Washington did not pick up a basketball for two years because the game to him had become associated with pain and agony. He was talking about his aching legs and back, but also the infamy of being part of the incident which former Laker coach and now general manager, Jerry West, portrayed as "The ugliest thing I have ever seen" (Washington Post, 1979). In the end, two careers were suddenly altered by one punch.

A relatively new phenomenon that has altered the careers of two prominent athletes is physical assault by fans. Monica Seles, the Number 1 ranked female tennis player in the world for the previous two years, was stabbed in the back by a fan on April 30, 1993 at the Citizen Cup Tournament in Hamburg, Germany. It was reported that the attacker wanted Monica out of the tournament so that his favorite, Steffi Graf, ranked Number 2 in the world, could surpass Seles. According to Thomsen (1993),

The attacker walked to the bottom row of the grandstand, in front of where Seles sat during a changeover in her quarterfinal against Magdalena Maleeva. From behind her he turned suddenly and pulled a serrated steak knife with a 12-centimeter blade from a bag hidden under his clothing. Leaning over a short spectators' fence, he stabbed Seles once between the shoulder blades. She suffered a wound about one-half inch deep. (P 2).

The fan later said that he did not intend to kill Seles, but only wanted her to withdraw so that Graf would surpass her. The fan seemed to accomplish his goal, as Seles not only had to withdraw from the Citizen Cup, but the French Open (where she was the three time defending champion), Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.

The tournament continued on the following day, but the players' bench was moved five feet back from the grandstand, and was attended by guards for the first time in W.T.A. history. This mindless and unpredictable act terminated Monica Seles playing schedule for the rest of 1993-1994. Subsequent comments made by other players suggest that they realize times have changed from when tennis fans were much more reserved and well mannered and that they must all now learn to contend with the threat of physical assault. It took 27 months before Monica returned to competitive tennis (Jenkins, 1995). Although she has played well since her return, and has managed to win the Australian Open in 1996, and make the finals of the French in 1998, her psychological perspective has changed because of the assault. It is believed that she now has to contend with fears which did not characterize the reckless abandon which she played with prior to the assault (Howard, 1995).

While the attack on Monica Seles might be discounted as a bizarre event perpetrated by a deranged individual, the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit on January 6, 1994, seems to suggest that athletes are potential targets, and that they must consider security along with all the other factors that are part of performing. According to reports, Kerrigan stepped off the ice after practicing, and stopped to talk to a reporter. A stranger approached, who hit her on the right leg with a club or metal bar, and then fled. She was forced to withdraw from the competition (Swift,1994). Fortunately, the physical injury did not prevent Kerrigan from competing in the Olympics the following month, where she won the silver medal (Jeansonne, 1994). On the other hand, the story behind the assault which implicated fellow competitor Tonya Harding and cohorts, mesmerized the sportÕs world for many months, and seemingly distracted Kerrigan from focusing exclusively on technique and the challenges of competition (Swift, 1994).

Physical assault can also be perpetrated by an athlete who then must pay the consequences for his aggression. One of the most bizarre "rags to riches" stories which left a main character in the "netherland of professional sports" is that of Latrell Sprewell. Sprewell was a late bloomer in the basketball world, not having played organized ball until his senior year in high school at Washington High in Milwaukee, during which he averaged 28 points per game (Taylor, 1994). Strangely, he did not receive any offers from Division I Colleges, and spent his first two years at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He then transferred to the University of Alabama where he built a reputation as a defensive specialist. In 1992 he was the 24th pick in the NBA draft, and went to the San Francisco Warriors as their first round pick.

Sprewell, in his next few years established himself as a legitimate NBA standout. He played in three NBA All-star games, and had a six year scoring average of 20.1 points per game. His reward was a four year, $32 million dollar contract (Wise, 1997a). Then on Dec. 1, 1997, at a practice session, Latrell Sprewell choked and punched his coach, P. J. Carlesimo in two separate altercations. According to NBA Commissioner David Stern "Latrell Sprewell assaulted coach P.J. Carlesimo twice at Monday's practice. First, he choked him until forcibly pulled away. Then, after leaving practice, Mr. Sprewell returned and fought his way through others in order to commit a second, and this time clearly premeditated, assault" (Wise, 1997b). Carlesimo was reported to have suffered a three inch scar on his neck.

The immediate reaction by the Warriors was to suspend Sprewell for 10 days. This initially looked as if it would cost Sprewell approximately $1 million dollars. After sitting out for one game, the Warriors announced that they would instead terminate SprewellÕs contract citing a clause indicating that players must "conform to standards of good citizenship and good moral character" and prohibits "acts of moral turpitude." The team then indicated that Sprewell could sign with another team after a 48 hour period. However, Commissioner Stern then entered the picture, and 24 hours later suspended Sprewell from playing in the NBA, without pay, for a one year period. Stern stated that "A sports league does not have to accept or condone behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society" (Wise, 1997b). This suspension was characterized as the most severe penalty ever administered to a professional athlete for insubordination. For the moment, Sprewell was out of a substantial portion of his seasonÕs pay of $6.4 million dollars, and $16.3 million dollars which remained on his multiyear contract. His shoe contract was also terminated by Converse.

Sprewell felt that the penalties were excessive and did not allow him due process. Consequently he brought suit against the Warriors and NBA. The case went to arbitration where it was ruled that the Warriors did not have the right to terminate the remainder of SprewellÕs contract, and that the one year suspension imposed by NBA Commissioner Stern which was to run until December 1998, should only run until the end of the 1997-98 season (Moore, 1998). In the end, no one came out of this event victorious. Sprewell lost a seasonÕs pay and acquired the reputation as an aggressive out of control player. The Warriors and NBA were also perceived as losers in that they were forced to relinquish some of the power they perceived themselves to possess for punishing behavior deemed egregiously unacceptable and contrary to the moral character clause in all player contracts.

In a surprise move, Sprewell has sued the Warriors and NBA for $30 million dollars in lost wages and damages. The suit claims that he was punished several times by the Warriors and NBA for the same offense, and that this has not only kept him from working, but has diminished his value in a trade The suit was not condoned by the NBA PlayerÕs Association (Dixon, 1998).

The final chapter of this story remains to be written. Some believe that the penalty was too harsh, and that coach Carlisimo deserves some responsibility for contributing to the unfortunate event because of his antagonistic and abusive coaching style (e.g., Kirsh, 1997). Others, (New Republic, 1997) have argued that the punishment sent a message that, regardless of provocation, such behavior is unacceptable. Irrespective of oneÕs viewpoint, it is clear that Sprewell, who appeared to have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams finds now that losing control of his temper has turned his world upside down. Ironically, he is now playing for the New York Knicks, and according to Wilbon (1999) is doing "É exactly what a man should do when given a second chance." Indeed, during the 1998-99 season he found himself being the darling of Madison Square Garden, and starting for the Knick in the NBA finals. In contrast to most who have fallen from grace, Sprewell deserves recognition for turning his likely demise into a remarkable comeback. In this respect, he is quite unique.

Summary

When we examine the question of whether an individual can experience the American Dream of acquiring fame and fortune through athletics today, we find that the potential certainly exists. Our best paid athletes are among our society's most highly compensated individuals. Even average performers in our major sports are paid salaries well beyond what highly trained professionals earn in more mundane fields. Furthermore, although the length of a professional athletic career is normally short, individuals can easily earn enough money in a few years to allow themselves to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Consequently, one would probably conclude that for those strong and talented enough, professional athletics provides incredible opportunities for individuals to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Yet, there are a number of caveats that need to be considered before casting unmitigated approbation on this field of endeavor. Certainly, it needs to be acknowledged that while the rewards are great, the opportunities are few. Computing the number of positions in professional athletics and the number of people vying for them, it is unlikely that unless an individual is extraordinarily talented, and lucky, he will depart from athletics as a success story. As discussed, dreams which are not realistic can be devastating.

As well, even if an individual were to secure one of the few positions in professional athletics the chances of having a long career in sports are small. There is the obvious requirement of not only having potential, but improving or maintaining one's level of expertise as new competitors constantly vie for the limited number of existing positions. There is also the potential for being injured, and having to struggle with both the psychological and physical pain of playing hurt, or not being able to play at all. Furthermore, there are the constant pressures of performing well enough to stay in favor with management , the fans, and the media. The pressures of adapting to a lifestyle which demands large amounts of travel, living in the public's eye, and having large amounts of discretionary income all seem to provide challenges to an athlete's psychological health. Such factors have often been identified as contributing to the various types of self-destructive behaviors observed in athletes, ranging from using illegal drugs to terminating one's life.

Clearly, pursuing and experiencing the dream of becoming a professional athlete is a two edged sword. The carrot of fame and fortune exists for those possessing the talent and strength of character to embrace it, but for those less worthy, or less lucky, the penalties for seeking this dream and failing can be quite tragic.

 

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[1] U.S. Dept. of Commerce News, Sept. 24, 2002,  Available at: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-124.html

[2] Forbes Magazine. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/lists/results.jhtml?passListId=53&passYear=2004&passListType=Person&searchParameter1=unset&searchParameter2=unset&resultsHowMany=25&resultsSortProperties=%2Bnumberfield2%2C%2Bstringfield2&resultsSortCategoryName=money_rank&fromColumnClick=&bktDisplayField=&bktDisplayFieldLength=&category1=category&category2=category&passKeyword=&resultsStart=1

[3] Notwithstanding Serena and Venus Williams being the highest paid female tennis players.

[4] Aavilable at: http://baseball.msn.com/articles/693720.armx

[5] For the 2003-2004 season 28 players made $12 million or more (data available at: http://www.insidehoops.com/nbasalaries.shtml).