Last impressions can tarnish entire careers




Matt Jonathan

For the Review


After the Linfield men’s soccer match last week, I was talking to a group of friends about the game and mentioned how senior Nick Jauregui ducked his head and basically bull-rushed a player out of the way.

One of my friends turned and asked, “Zidane style?”

In case you didn’t know, Zinedine Zidane is the former French midfielder responsible for the infamous head butt against Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final.

What struck me most about my friend’s comment was that it brought to light a concept I hadn’t thought of before: What athletes do last can often tarnish their legacies despite otherwise stellar careers. 

Zidane is one of the greatest soccer players to grace a pitch, and could arguably be mentioned in the same breath as Pelé. His vision and ball control were simply artistic. He won numerous tournaments, both domestically and with his national team, on top of a host of individual accolades. Zidane won two Italian leagues, a Spanish league, a Champions League, a World Cup and a UEFA European Championship.

But what is the first thing that comes to mind regarding one of the game’s greats? Ten seconds of sheer madness.

Think for a second about Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire and the scandal that rocked the foundation, and the record books, of baseball. Look at any before-and-after picture of Bonds, and you will think you are looking at two different people.

In his first two seasons of professional baseball, Bonds stole 68 bases. Before the BALCO investigation, McGuire was practically guaranteed a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sadly, he still may get it, but does he deserve it? Both Bonds and McGuire are known for their colossal ability to blast balls past the outfield fence, but they will always be associated with the BALCO scandal and the illegal enhancement drugs that contributed to their success.

If you think about notable sports icons weighed down by controversy, a host of players who have soiled their names in less-than-popular circumstances will come to mind.

Of course, many of the world’s top athletes avoid leaving competition with controversy. There are several athletes who, while not ending their careers with great glory, honor their craft and bow out valiantly.

Such an example is Andre Agassi, one of the greatest sports icons of all time.

The personification of everything great about the sports of tennis, Agassi’s U.S. Open defeat at the hands of Benjamin Becker in 2006 was one of the greatest sportsmanship moments in history. There was neither a dry eye in the crowd as fans stood to applaud for eight minutes, nor was there a dry cheek as Agassi made his farewell speech. Agassi’s career, while by no means spotless, will be remembered for inspiration, glory and a crazy hairstyle, as it should be.

This makes one wonder about athletes of the future. Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing. If he doesn’t repeat will that tarnish his grand image as the most successful Olympian ever?

Lance Armstrong said he wants to win an eighth Tour de France. While he still may hold the record for seven consecutive victories, his career may not be remembered with the same reverence if he loses in 2009.

Did Bret Favre make the right decision in reversing his retirement, going to the Jets and alienating Green Bay? Favre already tarnished his reputation by coming back. He should have stayed in retirement, as the toast of the Packers franchise. If he takes the field against the Packers, the boos will be heard nationwide.

We will not know for some time how history will remember these athletes. There are still athletes writing their stories. Rafael Nadal may have gotten the best of Roger Federer in the greatest Wimbledon final ever played, but the battle for supremacy continues.

Alex Rodriguez could become the best baseball player to never win a World Series.

A legacy, while defined by a career, can still be derailed by a final act of imprudence.

A decisive point of class can spark that single illuminating word in sports lingo: legendary.

Until then, ignore the stats.


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