At the 2006 Super Bowl media day (5 days before game day) a quite and unassuming player star player sat and answered questions for almost an hour. No it wasn’t Peyton Manning, rather it was Marvin Harrison. In a day and age where star wide receivers brag about their abilities, put on elaborate shows in the end zone and reach for the attention of the media and fans you have examples of a class act like Harrison. At this point in his career, he had quietly amassed hall of fame numbers (1,022 catches, 13,697 yards, and 122 touchdowns).
Many predicted that when he finally hangs up his number 88 jersey he will be one the greatest wide receiver in NFL history.
From season to season Harrison comes to work each day and strives to be the very best he can be. He’s one of the first out of the locker room after a game and never sits down for interviews (the Super Bowl media day was one of his first interviews in recent memory). When asked about his past performances and career Marvin said “I always wanted to be as good as anyone out there, whether it was 10 guys on a court or 22 guys on the field,” he said. “The goal was to be as good as I could be.” As the topic changes to lifestyle he describes his life as unspectacular “I hang out, go to dinner, do things normal people do”. He also mentions that his quest for the Super Bowl is not the Herculean conquest that many people have made it out to be. He certainly has the respect and admiration of some of the finest players in the game…like Peyton Manning, other wide receivers in the game and virtually any person who has ever watched him perform on the field.
In hockey you see similar great athletes who were just hard working, humble and respectful. Players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis, among many others show what it’s like to be a class act. These guys didn’t use performance enhancing drugs or abuse alcohol. They didn’t taunt other players or trash talk on the ice. Instead they showed up to the rink day after day and put in their best efforts all the time.
A fine example of this is after the retirement of hockey great Mark Messier his longtime teammate and friend Wayne Gretzky told the media “Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and taught so many of our young players. He was an exceptional leader who was unselfish, hardworking and dedicated. He truly loved the game. He was the best player I ever played with and it was a pleasure to play with him each and every day”.
In other sports we see the same kind of respect and classy attitude from superstar athletes. Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Bjorn Daehlie (the greatest winter Olympian of all time) or Hank Aaron are all examples. These kings of their sports could certainly brag about being the greatest or most accomplished. They would have cause to hold up one finger in the sky and taunt any opponent. But they never do. Instead these fine ambassadors for their sport show what it means to give back to younger generations, treat folks with respect and work hard in the pursuit of excellence.
In a day and age where you see the Reggie Bush’s of the world taunting players and then somersaulting into the end zone during the 2006 NFC championship game (which they lost), Terrell Owens causing off-field drama with his team mates (throughout his career) or Kobe Bryant getting caught up in off-court scandals that nearly ruined his reputation it might be hard to figure out how to act. After all, these professionals are very good at what they do and are paid large sums of money to do it. Yet something is different from a Terrell Owens and a Marvin Harrison. They both might go to the hall of fame, but they are not respected or admired the same with other players, coaches or fans. It’s not cool to flaunt your abilities or brag about who you are just because you can…it doesn’t accomplish anything other than show that you have no class.
There’s nothing wrong with a little celebration when you succeed. It’s natural to express happiness in a big goal (like the recent celebration in overtime by Patrick Kane as he scored the game 4 winner). The difference is how you act the rest of the time, how you treat others and what you give back to the sport. In the old days of hockey guys used to school rookies when they went against the grain or got out of line with their egos. This was a message from the veterans saying that one player is not above the game, rather they should have respect and gratitude to be a professional athlete and do what they love.
How can you be a class act? Well respecting the game, your opponents and yourself is a great place to start. Work hard every day to be the best and never settle for anything less (by my book DRYLAND if you need expert advice on how to get the most from your training). Give back to the game as a coach, ref, or mentor player if possible. In short, do the things that great athletes who are respected and loved do every day.