Ralph Nader once observed that the U.S. would be an entirely different country if we paid as much attention to politics as we did to sports. Imagine men in bars arguing over the finer points of a complicated trade agreement or the “sunset language” of a nuclear arms deal, instead of pounding down beers and ranting over the DH rule.
Which brings us to one aspect of professional sports. The most obnoxious thing about pro athletes who had fathers who were pro athletes is that so many of them exude a sense of privilege and entitlement. Not only did these boys grow up in affluent families, but given the extent to which we idolize our celebrities, they grew up thinking they were “special.” And why wouldn’t they?
Included in this group are: Peyton Manning (son of Archie), Eli Manning (son of Archie), Barry Bonds (son of Bobby), and Kobe Bryant (son of Joe “Jellybean” Bryant). In no way is this to suggest that these guys aren’t magnificent athletes. Their ability is beyond question.
While the Mannings are far and away the best examples of the “I-am-superior-to-the-jock-environment-in-which-I-play” mentality, Bonds and Bryant aren’t far behind. Barry has always bristled at being considered (God forbid!) a “regular” Major Leaguer, and Kobe, having traveled the world as a boy and becoming fluent in Italian, clearly sees himself as a cut above the NBA’s “ghetto trash.”
How special did Peyton Manning consider himself when he played for the University of Tennessee? Well, as Archie Manning’s kid, he was special enough to insist on playing college football even AFTER he graduated. Because he hoped for a national championship, and desperately wanted to win the Heisman Trophy, after getting his degree, Peyton enrolled in grad school.
As much as his football skills were admired, Peyton’s arrogance was another matter. His conceitedness must have stuck in the voters’ craws, because not only did they not give him the Heisman, they awarded it to Charles Woodson, marking the first (and only) time in history that the trophy went to a defensive player. If that wasn’t a slap-down, what was it?
Recently, Peyton was accused of using illegal HGH (human growth hormones). The story broke, Peyton’s handlers vehemently denied it, and then, weirdly, the people who claimed to have evidence melted into the woodwork. They vanished. Barry Bonds has to endure years of public harassment, yet Manning escapes with nothing more than “having a bad week”? WTF?
As for Eli Manning, son of Archie and brother of Peyton, he took the “We-don’t-believe-the-normal-rules-apply-to-the-Manning-family” philosophy a step further when he refused to go to the team that had drafted him after college.
Even in this age of overweening self-entitlement, Eli’s move was a real stunner. By announcing publicly that he was refusing to go to San Diego, the team that had legal draft rights to him, Eli figuratively extended his middle finger to the NFL, and more or less said, “Hey, we’re the Mannings. Those rules don’t apply to us.”
Which is why one of my all-time favorite athletes was the NBA’s Allen Iverson. His mom gave birth to him when she was fifteen years old, and he never really knew his dad. Not only was Iverson not a “child of privilege,” he came up hard. And even though he was a little man (listed at 6’ 0”, but closer to 5’ 10”) he was able to excel in a big man’s game.
Moreover, when Iverson was drafted out of Georgetown University by the pitiful (with an 18-64 record) Philadelphia 76’ers, he didn’t “pull a Manning,” and refuse to play for such a lousy team. Instead, he dutifully reported to Philly and, as a rookie sensation, instantly improved them.
So best of luck in retirement to Peyton, who (besides owning 21 Papa John’s pizza shops) is reported to be the American athlete with the most product endorsements. No one deserves being in the Hall of Fame more than he. Peyton was a class act on the field. As for the classiness of “Manning Rules,” we’ll leave that to others to decide.