Like many of us in Missouri, I watched the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs as they paraded through the streets of Kansas City negotiating a crowd north of a million admirers and fans. I am not a sports writer, however; I am a sports fan and as such have developed a personal profile that I use to help me define athletes who, even when they have a bad day, make us smile and appreciate them even more. Profiles are not infallible. With that being said, I thought I would share a thought or two about athletes and greatness.
First the exceptions. Many years ago, as a freshman at UMKC, I strolled into the Student Union to listen to a brash, young, superb athlete deliver a rather incoherent speech during a black history event. I happened to be close enough to the speaker as he entered the building to find my self shaking hands with Muhammad Ali. He was jabbering away, as was his custom, impeccably dressed and I distinctly recall shaking a hand that felt like a Virginia Ham. I had given little thought to evaluating athletes beyond their arena (whatever it might be) performance on a given day. It did occur to me the thought of kicking his butt was off the table as he was as imposing an individual as I had ever seen. Mr. Ali was not a humble man but was an exceptional man with settled principles. He stayed healthy until his mental capacity began diminishing as a result of his chosen occupation. Along these same lines, in the NFL, trash talking athletes, superior and journeymen alike, are a dime a dozen. I don’t find it particularly endearing and they do not fit my profile.
At the risk of igniting a firestorm of protest, I offer George Brett as an example of the complete athlete who meets my two pronged test for greatness. Hold on friends, as blasphemous as this may be, Tom Brady is another example. Brett was amazing to watch as he quietly went about the business of knocking the hide off baseballs, fielding incredible hot shots at third base and making blistering throws to first taking out the fastest runners in the game. He didn’t talk much about his exploits, on or off the field….he didn’t need to. He was one of those greats whose immense talent was secondary to his modesty. Brett is the picture of class. Brady, to date, is at the head of the class of great quarterbacks to ever play the game. He is almost too perfect. His millions, his super model wife and his seemingly ageless youth are what he is. Never mind that he is bright and, although not as well as in the past, has the ability to place a football in the shirt pocket of a receiver cutting routes that can not be followed by NORAD, thus guaranteeing him a place in the Hall. His absolute dedication to staying healthy has served him well past the age that most quarterbacks are sitting back thinking of ways to spend their piles of money.
Enter young Patrick Mahomes. He, single handedly, is the reason I began watching the NFL again. I am well past tired of the protests suggesting that America isn’t being fair to a given demographic, especially by athletes who are benefitting tremendously from America’s generosity. I have lived all over the world and believe me when I tell you, we have it made by any and all standards. Mahomes, today, exactly meets my profile for greatness beyond the ordinary. He is healthy, and, gasp, humble.When his heroics on the gridiron save the day, he gives credit to God and his teammates, without fail. He is very smart, fast and can put his throws into the watch pocket of a gaudy suit worn by so many players in the league who seek attention in any form. I watched George Brett play many times and deeply appreciate my good fortune at being able to do so. Hopefully I can say the same about young Mahomes in the years to come. The highest compliment that can possibly be paid to an athlete, who has been blessed with supernatural talent and skill, is when he or she is remembered as immensely talented and….a genuinely nice person. That my friends will meet the profile for greatness. The difference between “destined for greatness” and “greatness” is staying healthy, and humble.
So, my friends and readers, humble and healthy, in my view, is the perfect base in the recipe for greatness. This consideration is especially important to our young athletes as they establish their reputation for years to come. I recently met a 16 year old high school pitcher that has all the tools, a 85 MPH fastball, great personality and tons of potential on the diamond. He is also a really nice guy. Stay humble young man and healthy. I would love to read about you some day!