It has been said by people much brighter than me — which is a list more prolific than I’m comfortable admitting — that sports is the original reality-television programming.
For starters, sports is real. There are winners, losers and events or circumstances that you would never believe possible if you weren’t watching them unfurl before your very eyes. There are people we long to root against and sentimental favorites who are so endearing and good in the way they present themselves that we are willing to look past any warts or fallibilities in their actual talents (ahem, Tebow, ahem).
Fans of both media tune in like clockwork to see who sang their way to the next round, who beat a longtime rival in dramatic fashion, who threw nine shutout innings in a World Series battle or who will walk away with a rose at show’s end.
Reality-TV fans know who is sleeping with whom, who is just trying to make a name for him- or herself, and who is that perceived wallflower to burst out and shock the world with talent and grace that drops jaws to the floor. Sports fans know, well, all that, and who can best help with a fantasy team that is teetering on requiring life support.
I am admittedly not a fan of reality television (except “The Voice,” which sucks me in like a canned-music magnet) but do follow sports in a compulsive manner that is bordering on the insane. And while that means I do indeed care deeply about the teams I root for, and their win-loss record every year, I also get caught up in the personalities, for better or worse.
Cal Ripken Jr. was, is and probably always will be my favorite sports figure. Part of that is because he hit the Majors when I was 11 — the “sweet spot” of athlete idolization for me. Another part of it is because he was perceived to do things “the right way.” He didn’t get in trouble. He showed up to work every day. And he gave interviews that were more boring than this dumpster fire you’re reading right now, and I know that says a lot, because this...
But I digress.
I got to thinking about this subject last week when I was sitting down to watch the first round of the 2017 NFL amateur draft. Being a sports dork, I had been following a lot of the players who would be eligible to be picked, both because I wanted to see what players my team might be considering and because once you started reading about these athletes they became more like actual people, not just robots wearing different colors and doing battle for our enjoyment.
For instance, my Baltimore Ravens had become short on pass-rushers — that specific breed of athlete put on this planet to terrorize pretty-boy quarterbacks and wreak general mayhem on the opposition’s offense. I started following a bunch of those players who would be coming into the draft, and though I loved two of the guys the Ravens ultimately picked up, the guy I genuinely liked the most of that group ended up going elsewhere.
Takk McKinley was a special kind of quarterback-wrecker coming out of UCLA. Fast, strong, explosive and a little mean, McKinley was exactly the sort of athlete I was hoping the Ravens would bring into the team this year. Though it didn’t work out that way, a story about him and his grandmother made me smile for him when he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons instead and will make me root for him in the future.
McKinley was raised by his grandmother, Myrtle Collins, in a rough neighborhood in Richmond, Calif., right outside Oakland. In 2011, while McKinley was still in high school, Collins fell ill. McKinley reportedly promised her he would go on to play football at a Division I college and go on to the NFL. Collins died in the moments after he made that vow.
When McKinley’s name was ultimately called by the Falcons, the cameras picked up raw emotion on the young man’s face. He then went to the podium, accepted his ceremonial Falcons jersey and went off stage to meet with Deion Sanders, who was doing interviews for the NFL Network.
McKinley was a bundle of raw nerves, seemingly tottering from tears to sheer anger at the quarterbacks he was about to terrorize in the NFL. He carried an enlarged photo of Collins with him, repeatedly gave her all credit for his newfound status (and accompanying wealth) and then went on an expletive-laced diatribe about how hard he worked to get there and what he was going to do now that he’s there. It was all a little uncomfortable to watch on live television, but there was no denying what this night meant to McKinley, and his family.
Oh, I should have mentioned just how significant this is in practical terms — McKinley, who was raised by his grandmother in a tough neighborhood and on a tight budget, is scheduled to get a signing bonus of more than $5.5 million, according to projections by Forbes magazine. Myles Garrett, the first pick of the draft, should get a signing bonus of a little more than $20 million, according to Forbes. Deshaun Watson, the 12th pick, was going to receive about $9.3 million.
Watson, by the way, went a little crazy with his newfound money. According to several outlets, Watson wanted to show his mother gratitude for all she did raising him and helping him achieve his dream, so he bought her a 2017 Jaguar.
Mom, that does not mean he loves his mother more than I love you. I just can’t convince anyone to give me $9.3 million.
Great… Now there will be drama.
It’s like reality television.