Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Comparison Between NFL Athletes and Musicians Like The Beatles

Last week I heard about Tony Dorsett and the sad news about yet another football pro with degenerative brain disease. It stimulated a whole range of thoughts, one of them being how the arc of a career for an athlete is so different from that of a musician.

For football players, you're fortunate to get fifteen years as a pro, and much less if unfortunate in a variety of ways. It's a rough game, even without the new rules. It takes a toll on the body.

On the other hand, look at a guy like Sir Paul McCartney. Sure, the superstardom of The Beatles lasted about the length of a so-so NFL career, but his life as a musician and performer was still in in its infancy. Dylan is still performing at 72. Leonard Cohen, CSNY, Yes and so many of the stars who filled cars, bars and auditoriums with their music way back when. Even Springsteen is going strong with (from what I hear) 4 hour shows in which he's shakin' and makin' it happen.

What do football players have to look forward to besides a lot of achin'? Especially those who have chewed through all their bacon. According to news reports, 78% of them also go bankrupt within five years of their leaving the game. Considering how much money they make, that is a heckuva lot of wasted capital being siphoned off to who knows where.

This is not to suggest that musicians never go bankrupt. Or never have injuries. Fame itself can be a dangerous experience, verified by the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi, Janis, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and the short-lived brilliance of Basquiat.

Being a pro football player does seem to put you in a heady space. Cheerleaders and fans rooting for you from adolescence onward. If you're among the best you star in college, get huge signing bonuses and maybe even grab yourself a Super Bowl ring. You live for the moment, and get your heart broken in the moment. You usually have been working out while others were laid back, and you've made a lot of sacrifices for this adulation and the moola that comes with it.

Then it's over. You hang up your spurs. What next? The glory of those times will never return. With all that money you don't know who your real friends are and whose just hanging around to milk you. Your habit of "living large" is the only lifestyle you know. Now what?

Two Minnesota Vikings attended the church we went to when we lived in St. Paul in the early 80's. One of these was Wes Hamilton, starting guard for more than ten years. I asked him what he planned to do when he retired. He said he was going to buy a printing business and provide for his family. That's certainly a contrast from being on the field. I also remember him saying he's had his bell rung a few times. I'm hoping this hasn't taken a toll on him as it has for so many others.

Most guitar players never achieve the dream of record contracts and stardom, but most of the ones I know do keep making music, for the duration of a lifetime.

On the home front, there are a lot of music and performances happening this week here in the Twin Ports. Be sure to pick up a Reader, Transistor or today's Wave section of the DNT. And keep on keepin' on. 

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