Hefferon: Bring back two-sport stars (Feb. 26)
Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Jackie Robinson. Jim Brown. Jim Thorpe. Michael Jordan.
Each of these athletes was king of their respective sport at one point in time, a true legend of the game — but they have something else in common. Each also played at least one other sport and excelled in that as well. Robinson ran track and played football at UCLA, Brown is a Hall of Famer in lacrosse, Thorpe played just about everything and Michael Jordan starred in baseball … sort of.
There are more modern examples, namely Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, but their primes passed well over a decade ago. The era of the multi-sport athlete has seemingly come to an end, where the closest thing to a second sport an athlete will pick up is “Dancing With The Stars.”
There are a several factors that can be pointed to as explanations for this phenomenon. For one, kids are pressured to start specializing at younger and younger ages, and more than ever play just one sport. In addition, the time dedicated to training has gone up in every sport and at every level, precluding an athlete from adding other commitments. And once arriving in college or the pros, scholarships and contracts often forbid participation in other sports entirely for fear of injury risk, even banning activities like pick-up basketball.
That’s not to say that the potential isn’t there for a two-sport athlete, but it no longer seems to be something our culture values. For example, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tweeted last week that he will attend spring training with the Texas Rangers in the offseason, this announcement just a few weeks removed from winning the Super Bowl(!). The result was a widespread questioning of Wilson’s commitment, as well as his loyalty to the Seahawks franchise.
Whether this anger is a byproduct of fans’ increasing investement in their teams or maybe just the failed Michael Jordan experiment, it is clear that the atmosphere is no longer friendly to these cross-sport stars. But some are still toeing the line.
Just yesterday, Florida State quarterback phenom Jameis Winston laced up his cleats for an exhibition against the New York Yankees as part of the Seminoles baseball team. Golden Tate and Pat Connaughton both moonlighted for Notre Dame baseball as well when they weren’t on the gridiron or the hardwood. And many of the NFL’s best tight ends have come from college basketball backgrounds (Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham to name two).
Sure, there’s been some sideshows in recent years, like Chad Ochocinco trying out for the MLS or Lolo Jones making a run at the women’s bobsled team (a la the original multi-sport sideshow, “Cool Runnings”).
But at the heart of it, fans want to be entertained, and crossover athletes are flat-out entertaining. Who wouldn’t want to see LeBron James at tight end, or Usain Bolt on Manchester United or Manny Pacquiao as an NHL enforcer?
Sure, injury risk might be a concern for some teams, but franchises could loan out players with injury insurance clauses, even for one night only exhibitions, and share some of the ticket revenue.
Is it feasible? Probably not. Is it dumb? Possibly. But a dumber exhibition than, say, the Pro Bowl? I don’t think so.
So, athletes of the world, let’s do this. It’s time to get in (another) game.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.