WESTWOOD—It’s pretty safe to say that in life, all anyone is basically looking for is happiness. Behind every act a person does, at the core is a pursuit of happiness. They believe that what they want to do or are going to do will make them happy, but the funny thing is that once some people accomplish those goals in front of them or those expectations they set for themselves, for some reason they still don’t find happiness. CEO’s of major corporations and other powerful figures in the business world rake in millions, sometimes billions, of dollars every year, but for some reason it seems like they can never have enough.
In sports, some players experience the same thing. They sign huge contracts, have outlandish endorsement deals, and make more money playing one game than most people make in a year, but sports also provides a unique pathway that is sometimes hard to see outside the sports world. Sports provide athletes the opportunity to realize where true happiness comes from.
Like I said, everyone basically just wants to be happy, but a lot of people forget about the pursuit aspect of everything. Listening to Drew Brees and the other Saints last Sunday, of course they all talked about how happy they were to win the Super Bowl and how unbelievable it was, but if you listened carefully, the significant part of what they were saying was their references to the 43-year journey it took to get to that point. The Saints had pretty much been the doormat of the NFL since they came into existence 43 years ago. Fans would where bags over their heads at games, people referred to them as the Aints. Tack on Hurricane Katrina and life is not very good if you are from New Orleans and a Saints fan, but a surprising second half collapse by the Colts in the Super Bowl was all they needed to take all that pain and suffering away.
All that hard work, the conditioning in the offseason, the extra time in the weight room and the hours upon hours of studying was what allowed the Saints to experience that moment in the Super Bowl, and that is where happiness is found. Nothing is given to you in sports. To become a champion and be the best you have to push your mind and your body to the limit, no exceptions. Besides the obvious legal issues that come with using steroids in sports, the moral issues are far more important. Those players who use them are like those CEO’s who cut corners or use shady deals to get ahead. They have all forgotten that the end result is not what will make them happy: it’s all the work that leads up to making it happen.
When something is given to you without having done any work for it, it makes that gift that was shining so brightly before seem a little dull. I’m not talking about a birthday gift or a Christmas present, this is more along the lines of test a person cheated on and got an A or maybe a win someone received when they know they broke the rules to get it. At first everything may seem great, but deep down inside they know it’s not real, they didn’t earn it and it eats them up inside. There is a reason Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, and Tony Mandarich were crying when they finally confessed to using performance enhancing drugs during their interviews. They had what they wanted, but they were not happy because they knew it wasn’t obtained the right way.
During his record setting 10 NCAA basketball championship seasons, legendary head coach John Wooden never once talked about winning. He knew what was important and passed that same wisdom on to his players and to the entire UCLA athletic program. A coach once said to me that it shouldn’t matter if you won or lost after a game was over because if you know in your heart you did everything you could to win the game you should still feel good about yourself. Being just a young teenager in high school my first thought was my coach was crazy. Winning is all that mattered, but after losing a championship football game my junior year I stood under the goalpost crying and thinking about everything I could have done better or worked a little harder on to help us win, and I realized just how true his words were. Hard work doesn’t always end in a championship parade or a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes goals are not reached and expectations are not met, but knowing that you worked as hard you could to pursue them allows you to still feel good about yourself—unlike those misguided superstars who had just a “little” bit of help reaching theirs.