Growing up, all I wanted to do was play sports. I would play anything as long as there was a ball to throw or a bat to swing. This led me to follow sports religiously and I naturally gravitated to the one player who I knew that played multiple sports: Deion Sanders.
I was drawn to his flashy play and the fact that he was so feared by opponents. As an amateur athlete myself, I followed him and emulated him, even if there was no way I could’ve ever lived up to his athletic feats. I wore his jersey when playing in the yard and tried to play every sport possible, just like my favorite athlete.
To me, Deion was a hero. To others, he was vilified. The naysayers would say that Deion only cared about himself and was too flashy. I always envied Sanders because he showed his emotion and confidence on the field and that was something that was not allowed for me as a young athlete. While it was good for me to see that emotion and confidence, it was not something accepted by all.
What gets lost in the debate on Sanders is how he worked and what life-lessons his career imparted to a lot of young fans, including the writer of this column, even if he wasn’t “worthy” of being looked up to by some. For everyone’s story, there is a lesson in it.
Many people will say that Deion was simply an athlete who used his traits to become successful. While that is true, he also worked hard. Deion appeared in the recent filming of the NFL Network’s 100-year all-time team. He was rightfully praised for his highlight plays, but he was also given props for his preparation work.
Rich Eisen, Bill Belichick, Chris Collinsworth and Deion were talking about his preparation for a small portion of the time he was on air. He talked about watching tape and knowing his opponents. Deion didn’t just study the wide receiver he was going up against, but also the coordinators so he could understand schemes. This allowed him to guard any receiver they threw at him.
His ritual of laying out his uniform was unique, but as mentioned when he was at NFL Network, he was watching tape in the background. Sanders was famous for his ability to bait quarterbacks into throwing his way just so he could intercept the pass, but it took preparation to aid him in that.
He may have had a lot of fun, but Sanders also put in the work when it was necessary to be at his best when his team needed him.
Work Hard, Play Hard
His hard work has already been touched on, but Deion was more famously known for his party-filled lifestyle. This is something that got a little bit too extreme, as even Deion would admit, but he was someone who loved to work hard and play hard.
Deion’s personality kept teams loose and ready to play. Working hard is great, but being too uptight about things can also be a detriment. Deion gets a lot of criticism, but he also should get some form of credit for always being loose.
The work-hard, play-hard mindset is the perfect attitude for someone in today’s world. Too often there are people that are too caught up in their jobs (hand up on that one at times) or people who have no drive and ambition. Life is about balance. Deion definitely had some trouble finding that balance, as he missed curfew during the Super Bowl week with the 49ers, but at the end of the day, he worked hard and he had fun off the field.
Way too many times fans don’t want to see their favorite athletes having fun because in their minds they should be in the gym or at practice. The work hard, play hard mentality should be celebrated for everyone, whether it is a banker or an athlete. If people can find something they love doing, work hard at it, but still have fun when they aren’t on the clock (and sometimes when they are on the clock) society would be better off.
Confidence Goes a Long Way
Having confidence in one’s self is tricky. With everything that goes on in a person’s life, and with negative people around, it can be hard to remain confident. That was never an issue for Deion, which is something that people should take from his career.
His preparation, as well as his physical tools, helped him to gain confidence. It took confidence to be left on an island all game. What took even more assurance was battling against some of the NFL’s best receivers of all-time. His confidence that he could shut down his receivers is what made him such a great player. This may have come off as cocky, with his high-stepping to the end zone or his quotes in the media, but at the end of the day, Deion was just confident in himself.
Some people didn’t like the way he was portraying himself, but to a kid watching on television, the confidence was the key thing I took from all of his dashes to the end zone. People could accomplish a lot more if they had the same confidence and drive that Deion had, even if they should probably not do a high-step after doing something successful at their home or place of work.
Beating the Odds
Deion’s journey is also a lesson in beating the odds. The odds that an athlete is able to make one professional sport are slim to none. Making two is even harder. Sanders is one of the very few who were able to do both.
Yes, Sanders was athletic and that helped open doors to both the NFL and MLB, but both of these sports are skill-based as well. Deion was fast, but he also needed body control, smarts and a drive to make it that far in both baseball and football. After all, just being fast doesn’t help people stick in either league.
John Ross has the NFL Combine record for 40-yard dash time and he hasn’t made much of an impact for the Cincinnati Bengals (yes, there have been some injuries). Billy Hamilton is one of the fastest players in baseball, but he hasn’t figured out how to consistently hit the ball and has bounced around in the last few seasons. His career average of .242, is way less than Deion’s .263. Hitting a baseball is something that takes a lot of skill and is something that even great athletes struggle with. Sanders didn’t have that issue.
Even with his athleticism and speed, it is absolutely incredible that he was successful in both football and baseball. Deion beat the odds and proved that plenty of dreams out there can come true with some belief and determination.
In a world where people try to look up to people who are already like them, I looked up to a player that was completely different than who I was. That was a good thing.
Looking up to Deion helped me become more confident, gave me clearance to have fun, showed me how crucial preparation was and to be proud, which were all areas I needed to grow in. It was refreshing to have someone to look up to who was different. I learned so much more from Deion because he was so proficient in areas I needed to improve on myself. The differences between me and my favorite athlete are still there, but watching Deion showed me visually that it was ok to step out of my comfort zone and have some confidence.
They say not all athletes are role models. Deion Sanders wouldn’t be everyone’s first pick for their kid to look up to, but there were plenty of positive traits to glean. It was just a matter of finding them and using them to help achieve balance as a person.
Deion can be called a variety of different names by the haters. To me, he’s always going to be a hero because of how he displayed all the things I needed to see and learn from in an athlete.
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