By Josh Axelrod > Freshman > Journalism > University of Maryland, College Park, Photo by Eddie Codel
A professional athlete’s legacy can be defined by what he does both on and off the court. O.J. Simpson may have been a great football player; but is he remembered for highly publicized murder trial more memorable or his career on the field? If he had returned to his sport and produced at a high level again, could he have salvaged his legacy?
Many of today’s athletes are no strangers to scandals. The lucky ones might get a chance to erase the sour memories of their misdeeds by doing something simple: winning.
Take Michael Vick for example. In 2007, he was sentenced to 23 months in jail for his involvement in a dog fighting operation. How did he respond? After his release last year, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, became their starting quarterback this season, and began to electrify the league while earning MVP consideration. He ended the season with an average passer rating of 100.2, 3,018 yards, and 21 touchdowns. And despite his criminal history, his jersey is the sixth highest-selling player jersey in the NFL.
“What Michael Vick did was horrible and it hurt because I have a dog and couldn’t imagine why he’d do that,” said Slippery Rock University freshman Greg Malek. “I do feel that winning somewhat changes the perception of him because he’s doing and saying all the right things again and he really does seem like he’s trying to be a better person.”
During the summer of 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia nightclub. He was never convicted of anything, but the NFL suspended him for the first four games of the 2010 season. He responded with an average passer rating of 97.0, 3,200 yards, 17 touchdowns, and leading the Steelers to an AFC championship. However, all is not forgotten: his jersey sales did take a hit, going from number three in 2009 to out of the top 25 completely.
“I saw him as a very confident, nearly conceited franchise quarterback,” said Point Park University sophomore Alex Canton. “After the incident, I still viewed Ben the same way as a football player, but he further proved my point as a conceited football star that needed to be humbled by his community.”
Not every athlete fully recovers from a scandal. Starting with that fight with now ex-wife Elin Nordegren on November 27, 2009, Tiger Woods has been linked with at least a dozen women who claimed to be his mistress. His personal troubles have affected his career; Tiger not only lost lucrative endorsement contracts with Accenture, Gatorade, Gillette, Golf Digest, and AT&T, but also did not register a win in 2010. Of course, TV ratings do still soar whenever Tiger is playing compared to when he is absent.
One of the more memorable scandals involved Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant who was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado spa in 2003. The case was eventually dropped, and he has since won two more NBA titles for a total of five. Being the best player in your sport never hurts when trying to repair your image.
“I still think he is the best player in the NBA,” said La Roche College freshman Brian Thomas Mertz. “Seeing him on Sportscenter makes me believer even more that he is the best. Being that I like him, the stuff that happens off the court doesn’t change my opinion of him.”