The title of my scribbles is "Musings", selected by someone other than me. Still, I have no objections, it's a decent title and, as a matter of fact, quite accurately describes how my mind is working when I write. So let me 'muse' away and, hopefully you'll find some enjoyment in the following. WARNINGS: All these musings may wander far afield from T&F. Proceed at your own risk.
WHO ARE THE FOUR GREATEST FAILURES DUE TO THEIR OWN ABERRATIONAL BEHAVIOR? ALL FOUR ARE WELL-KNOWN, GREAT ATHLETES WHO NEVER CAME CLOSE TO THEIR AWESOME POTENTIAL. But, I must correct myself. Only two are irretrievably lost. One is making a laudable comeback and one's future is known only to a higher power.
Now please remember this is a purely opinionated article. Many of you will, perhaps (probably) have different players. Great! That's what makes pieces like this enjoyable. There are NO correct answers but rather MANY that fit the description. Let me get started with my group and if you differ, disagree or are PO'ed, let me know. (email@example.com)
MIKE TYSON - Here's a guy who could have EASILY become the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. He had EVERYTHING! Speed, savvy, skills, durability, stamina, a rocklike chin and utterly fearless. But, alas, he lacked common sense. Note, I did NOT say intelligence. I think he was a fairly bright man, who, with the proper guidance, could handle himself in most situations. But, I recall him describing a trip from New York City to Albany which included lurid details of sexual acts throughout the journey.
Under the mentorship of Cus D'Amato, Tyson was brought along carefully, never overmatched when he was young and reached the pinnacle of success in his chosen profession. In the ring, he was unbeatable, striking fear, almost terror in the hearts and minds of his opponents. And that fear, that terror was fully justified. According to boxing expert Bert Sugar (the guy with the ever-present but unlit cigar) Tyson had won virtually EVERY fight before even getting into the ring. Yet, when the experts get together and talk about Tyson the discussion always ends with a quote by Whittier, "Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, what might have been." How could Tyson lose to a nobody like Buster Douglas? Douglas didn't even qualify as a 'journeyman' heavyweight. Sacrificial lamb is a more apt description. Thus, an over-weight, out-of-shape Mike Tyson climbed into the ring in Japan and a few minutes later was literally carried out of that ring while a stunned Douglas looked on in amazement. From that point on Tyson was little more than a joke, one of the greatest failures in the history of the manly art. Why? How could one of the most gifted fighters of all time be reduced to a mere caricature of his former self? Well, I'm no psychologist but I'd bet the barn on a total lack of self-discipline. Throughout his entire life Tyson had someone looking out for him. His path to greatness was well-lit, his hand was held through every crisis and all the young man had to do was follow this fatherly advice. Decisions? They were all made for him. Problems? Someone was always there to take care of them.
JOHN DALY had the talent to be one of the greatest golfers in history. Twice the winner of the OPEN he could drive a golf ball farther than most of us could FedEx it. And he had an amazing touch around the greens. I recall seeing him in a playoff in a sand trap 30-40 yards from the pin, landing his shot about 10' from the hole and stunning his two opponents by making his putt. The opponents, each having a much easier putt, both missed and Daly won the playoff and the tournament. But, later in his career, he went to one of the games greatest teachers, Butch Harmon, for some high level instruction. A few days later, a frustrated Harmon quit commenting, "All he really wanted to do was get drunk." Today, Daley spends much of his time sending letters to tournament directors seeking entry via a sponsors exemption since that's the only way he can qualify to play in most events. Very few bother replying to him. A potentially great career thrown away at countless Hooters. But wait! Daly appears to be having a new birth, a new desire to take advantage of his awesome potential and become the star everyone predicted for him all those many years ago. For example, one NEVER saw Daly without a cigarette in his mouth. Today he chews nicorettes to satisfy that addiction.
MARION JONES unquestionnably belongs among this sad group. She touches quite close to my heart. About fifteen years ago I got a call from the late Doug Speck. The purpose of his call was to alert me — I was the recruiter for the Pathmark Classic, a forerunner to today's New Balance Nationals — to a young girl, a ninth grader as I recall, whom Speck described as the "…next great one, absolutely awesome…" Her name, MARION JONES. She was a 15-year old in the eighth grade. We brought her to the meet where she lost to Floridian Zundra Feagan over 200m. But think about it, a silver medal at the national championships as an eighth grader. Speck was right, she was awesome. And she got better! MJ became the greatest female athlete in the world…then she got greedy…and stupid. Not content to win 4-5 gold medals at the Olympics, she wanted 6-7. Accordingly, she allowed a banned substance to be massaged into her body believing she could get past drug testing. She didn't. Then, compounding her error, she lied about it. The entire amateur athletic community rose up against her and she was banned for life. FOR LIFE. The greatest female athlete the world had ever known was thrown out of her sport FOR LIFE. When I read the story, I cried. I've been involved with our sport for over 65 years, coached a few national champions, set a few national high school records, seen a lot of good stuff, some bad, thought I was pretty jaded about the whole thing. But to see one of the nicest, most personable young woman I'd ever met reduced to little more than a liar and a cheat crushed me. When MJ walked into a room with that million dollar smile, the entire room seemed ablaze in sunlight. When she ran, it was poetry in motion. Today she's a run-of-the-mill basketball player with no athletic future. An Icarus-like figure that soared then plummeted to Earth.
And now I come to LASHAWN MERRITT. I've already written much about this young man so I won't go into a lot of detail about him. But, for the record, the Olympic champion, the World champion, on the brink of breaking the world record and being recognized as the greatest 400m runner ever, he takes a banned substance, gets caught and is banned from the sport for two years. Here's a kid with a terrific personality, a heart-warming smile, talent almost too good to be believed and he throws it all away. Why? Believe it or not, not to become a better runner…but to enhance his male prowess, to become more manly. When I read it I couldn't believe it. And yes, I cried. This was a kid, on behalf of the NSSF, I'd driven to several high school meets, bought lunch and dinner for, arranged housing, planned race strategy (easy job) with and seen go on to greatness. Now, this wonderful young man will be banned for two years. If you love the sport as much as I do, you should be crying too. I hope and pray he'll hold it together for these two years and come back better than ever. Can he do it? This is a kid who still mourns the loss of his brother, killed in an accident several years ago and to whom he dedicates many of his races. He's quite young and, with some stern guidance and a lot of support, can return and move on to greater heights…I hope.
Mike Tyson and Marion Jones are gone, their greatness remembered by only a few. To his ever-lasting credit, John Daly has made it back and may go on to win a few more majors. Merritt? Only God knows and he doesn't answer letters…or musings.
Sorry to write such a morbid column but sometimes sport is cruel.