UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Star athletes, coaches are a lot like us, after all

Have you been following the sports news lately? 

Not the updates on baseball negotiations or speculation about the March Madness bracket and which teams are “on the bubble,” as they say; I’m talking stories about some of the biggest names in their respective sports—headlines like these:

“Phil Mickelson offers apology for Super Golf League comments . . .”

“Michigan men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard suspended for rest of Wolverines’ regular season . . .”

“You can fail and not be a failure, Mikaela Shiffrin reflects . . .”

“Aaron Rodgers’ go-to cleanse would involve oily enemas, bloodletting, vomiting . . .”

“It was reckless. I offended people. And I am deeply sorry for my choice of words,” tweeted Mickelson in an unsuccessful attempt to undo what he’d done when he described the Saudis as “scary” but said he was looking past their poor human rights history to use the breakaway golf league they’re sponsoring to gain leverage with the PGA Tour. (Lefty has lost sponsorships and his foundation its Tour tournament affiliation.)

“I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this,” said Mickelson.

Suspended for striking a Wisconsin assistant coach in the face in the “handshake line” at the conclusion of the Badgers’ 77-63 victory over his team, Howard issued a public statement that said, in part:

“After taking time to reflect on all that happened, I realize how unacceptable both my actions and words were . . . I am truly sorry. I am offering my sincerest apology to my players and their families, my staff, my family and the Michigan fans around the world. I would like to personally apologize to Wisconsin’s assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft and his family, too.

“Lastly, I speak a lot about being a Michigan man and representing the University of Michigan with class and pride. I did not do that, nor did I set the right example in the right way for my student-athletes. I will learn from my mistake, and this mistake will never happen again No excuses.”

After failing to complete her runs in multiple skiing events at the Winter Olympics in Beijing—she was shown sitting on the snow, head down, after one fall, and was quoted saying, “I just feel like a joke”—Shiffrin, in an Instagram post, admitted questioning why she continues to ski competitively. 

But given a little time away from the glare of national television coverage of her unsuccessful attempts to bring home Olympic medals, she felt differently.

“You can fail and not be a failure,” she said in a cable TV interview. “You can lose, and actually be a loser because you lost, but still be a winner. 

“It’s not so scary to fail, especially because I failed because I was trying so hard, maybe too hard.”

Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, was busy explaining an Instagram post he wrote after participating in an unorthodox—some say questionable or worse—12-day “cleanse” called Panchakarma. An alternative medicine process popular in India and Nepal, Panchkarma is a five-step detoxification program intended to “cleanse” the body. Pancha means five and karma translates to procedures. The five procedures are called Virechan, Basti, Vaman, Nasya and Raktamokshana.

The Instagram post was hashtagged “Monday Night Gratitude,” and many Rodgers-watchers tried to interpret as a sign of his impending departure from the Packers.

“There’s nothing cryptic about gratitude,” said the unconventional two-time NFL MVP of the Packers who elaborated on the ritual he just completed. “You’ve got to kind of turn everything else off, so you’re not working out, you’re not straining or anything. It’s kind of a re-centering. It not only heals you physically, but I think it takes away mental stress and then the spiritual part I think allows you to kind of enjoy the meditations a little more, so when I come out, my first thought is intense gratitude for the people in my life.”

Remorse. Apology. Second thoughts. Tortured explanation.

My reaction to all of these stories was almost startling. I realized that no matter how much money, glory or fame prominent athletes and coaches who are former athletes—stars, all—accrue, in the end they’re just human beings, like the rest of us. 

And that means they’re susceptible to the range of foibles, flaws and missteps that all other mortals (fans) deal with along the path of life.

A lesson for everyone is that they didn’t hide, deny or try to rationalize.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.