It’s not hard to fathom that athletes go above and beyond to top one another on and off the playing surface. After all, anyone that rises to the highest ranks in a professional sport is competitive by nature. Given an abundance of natural athleticism at birth and a paycheck that looks like a phone number soon after they become an adult, they are virtually unfettered when it comes to many of life’s pursuits.
In many ways this is a positive thing. Our recent athletes are larger, faster and stronger than a generation ago and the competition on the field has never been so compelling.
When this competition leaves the playing surface, however, things can go wrong.
On the field, an athlete’s athletic pursuits are performed in tandem with other people—teams win games, playoff series and championships. Off the field, an athlete’s personal pursuits are performed individually—a person buys a house, a car and, you know, a yacht…with a gym in it.
And this leads athletes to become self-centered.
At worst it can lead a person to ruin the life of their unborn child as in the case of Carolina Panthers draft bust Rae Carruth.
At best it leads to comical overspending.
There are some athletes that just need the penthouse on Park Avenue and a home in Manhattan Beach. If their teammate rolls up in a Cadillac, they’re going to go out and get a Beamer. And if they go to a bachelor party on a yacht that features stripper poles in the basement, they’re going to put a helicopter pad on top of luxury cruiser.
While we’re on the topic of stripper poles, a great way to burn through cash without getting anything tangible or redeeming in return is to “make it rain.”*
Adam “Pacman” Jones, who brought $100,000 worth of one-dollar bills to a gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas and proceeded to throw the money at the dancers—making money rain all over the club, has made this action famous.
*The only thing better than making it rain? Making it hail.
For those of us that don’t have thousands of dollars to throw away, this is a more economical way to waste your money. Instead of throwing one-dollar bills, just chuck pennies, dimes and quarters at people.
Jones’ antics not only got in him in trouble with the law and probably will curtail his NFL career, but it inspired someone to create a mock trailer for a video game that combined Madden and Grand Theft Auto into a single item that featured Pacman as a gun-wielding, car-stealing, strip-club-loitering protagonist that played a little football on the side.
Like Space Balls 2: The Quest for More Money, Grand Theft Auto: Pacman Jones was a promising media venture that never came to fruition.
On a serious note, many players end up in situations where family and friends demand money from them or get tied up in bad investments that, in the end, lead to bankruptcy.
In order to keep the paychecks coming, professional athletes are tempted to use any means necessary—ice baths, painkillers and performance enhancing drugs—to keep them on the field and keep the paychecks coming.
The latter brings us to the second film, 9.79* where Canada’s Ben Johnson beats US sensation Carl Lewis in the 100 meter dash at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Johnson is later found to have used performance-enhancing drugs and relinquishes his title to Lewis.
Before the film was released Malcolm Gladwell posited that professional athletes should be allowed to use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in a BS Report episode. The author of books like Blink and Outliers argues that science is not going to catch up to the ever-growing tactics used by HGH and steroid users to cover their usage. Furthermore, he feels that people are interested in superhuman feats so why not use super humans?
Allowing this to happen would take away the most important aspect of sport, however:
The human element.
After all, our greatest athletes may have been born with incredible natural ability, but some fritter it away with drug use and lack of work ethic while others overachieve by keeping out of trouble off the field and working hard on it.
As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote in his opus on PEDs, the difference between making a major league team and being a career minor leaguer is a wide gap and often players have used steroids and other PEDs.
In the short term, the cheater wins. He gets to play a professional sport, an opportunity to make millions and enjoy a heightened social status. But in the long term, Verducci found that the cheater has regrets while the career minor leaguers sleep well at night knowing they made the most of their talent.
Sometimes we forget these guys are not video game characters. 3D model Pacman Jones can engage in a 100 mph vehicular collision and be shot at by three thugs with AK-47s and still retain a quarter of his health meter—which is refilled by eating a dollar dog at a street-side vendor.
Real Pacman Jones? He doesn’t survive that.
More pertinently, like any other professional athlete he may later have regrets about his decisions, court fees to pay and family members to take care of.
And, on a wider scale, there is someone in the NFL that is less talented, has fewer accolades than him and drafted later than him and has an opportunity to become the next Victor Cruz, Wes Welker or James Harrison because Pacman fell to a simple human folly:
Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.