The NFL’s Hall of Fame is a shrine to the very best in professional football. Since it’s founding in 1963 the organization has memorialized 267 star athletes dating back to the beginnings of the sport in the early 20’s. Selected through votes from 44 participants of the Board of Selectors; being inducted into the HOF is the shining culmination of any player’s career – it’s like getting the gold watch except it’s a ring and a sculpture of your head.
The extensive ceremonial festivities climax with each player’s acceptance speech and the unveiling of their bronze bust. It was one such speech from a recent inductee, which led me to ponder the question “Is the desire for greatness such a worthy objective?”
Those select individuals considered great are held in high regard and are practically worshiped in our culture. We place them on that proverbial pedestal hanging on their every word in hopes of catching some morsel that might give us an inside track for obtaining our own piece of greatness. If they’re great in one aspect of life then they must be great in every aspect, or so we’re told to believe.
Greatness comes at a price but it’s more than hard work and determination.
He attributed his success on the gridiron on a burning desire to change his circumstances; as he put it to move away from the “leaking roof” and “cold oatmeal” of his youth. He would do whatever necessary to ensure his family had a better life.
“Nobody ever knew how much this five alarm fire raged inside of me. My sister didn’t know, my brother didn’t know, but it raged. I had to leave Glennville. I had to make a better way for my brothers, for my sister, for my mom. I didn’t want my kids to live one night, not one hour, not one hour in the life that I had let alone a day.”
I couldn’t help but admire the determination and passion, which drives one to such lengths. In a world of aggrandization it’s hard to find sincere sacrifice still leveraged for the benefit of others. But as the speech continued his motives began, it seems, to take on an egotistical shade.
“I neglected my kids. I missed recitals, I missed football practice, I missed graduations because I was so obsessed with being the best player I could possibly be that I neglected a lot of people. I ruined a lot of relationships. But I’m not here to apologize for that because it got me here and it got them to a life they never would have enjoyed had it not been for that.”
In his desire to be great he unabashedly and unremorsefully sacrificed those closest to him. In the wake of his ambition lay the charred remains of undeserved brokenness. I’m certain that as he stood on the podium basking in the cheers and adulation of his adoring fans he believed it was all worth it. He achieved his goal, made good, created a better life, and became great – but at what price and who got stuck with the bill?
Counselor’s offices are filled with the aftermath from parents who, like Mr. Sharpe, ignored more important responsibilities in their pursuit of greatness; instead of touchdowns it’s an annual bonus, a bourgeoning business, or a likely promotion. But regardless of the end goal the side effects remain similar. Greatness always comes at a price and it’s more than just hard work and determination. The cost also takes the form of neglect, detachment, and self-doubt with those we claim to love the most paying for it.
Mr. Sharpe’s original intent was no doubt honorable. The aim of creating a better life for his family represents the very best in each of us. But somewhere along the way I fear that raging fire consumed him and turned his noble self-sacrifice into corrupt self-interest.
If the journey towards greatness means running over those we love – perhaps being good, is good enough.