I was listening to Mike and Mike on ESPN radio this morning as I drove to work. They got on the topic of whether or not Michael Vick would be reinstated to play in the NFL now that he is out of prison. The topic then swung to the question of whether playing professional sports is a right or a privilege. I had some strong feelings about this, so sent them an e-mail, which I’m reproducing here:
Dear Mike and Mike,
I wanted to comment on this issue of whether or not playing professional sports is a privilege or a right. Basically, it is both. Making an NFL team does take a lot of hard work, but if you are not born with the requisite physical attributes you will not be playing in the NFL, no matter how hard you work. Period.
I played five years of organized football in junior high school and high school. My father was a well-regarded football coach, who at one point was asked to join the staff of Lou Saban. I loved the game and I played hard. I lifted weights beginning in sixth grade. My father would put me through drills during the summer to prepare me for the fall. When I was a senior in high school, I was one of the starting middle linebackers in our three-four defense… I was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 140 lbs. (That winter, I would be captain of the high school wrestling team in the 132 lb weight class.)
There was no way my career in football would continue after high school. No matter how much I worked, I wasn’t fast enough or big enough to play college ball, let alone pro ball.
Golic, you worked hard, but you were born with the physique that made your hard work able to pay off. And, no matter how hard you were going to work, you would never be the quarterback or a safety or a wide receiver. The physical attributes with which we are born — something we do NOT earn — makes all the difference.
As to whether or not Mike Vick should have the right to play in the NFL again. Of course he has the right. However, owners also have the right to say, “Michael, we do not want our team associated with a sociopath.” But don’t kid yourself into thinking that the only reason Michael Vick has the right to play pro football is because of his hard work. This is a man blessed with amazing natural talent. Yes, he had to nurture that talent with hard work… I’m not saying he coasted to his career. But there was a lot of good fortune in the mix.
And there is, indeed, a further element of “privilege” involved in playing pro sports. That privilege does not involve the owner of the team, but the fans. Professional athletes do not build homes, heal wounds, teach children, protect our neighborhoods. They play games. That their efforts at this are highly rewarded is only because of the fans… the doctors, teachers, police officers, carpenters who buy the tickets and watch the games.
Golic, do you really think there was that much value in what you did in the NFL? Really? You were one of 22 entertainers on the field at any one time. I’m not saying your job was not grueling and hard. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been. But that there was value in it is only due to the perception of the fans that what you did had value. In that way, there is a privilege bestowed upon you by the fans. That privilege is that your job existed at all.