Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Question of Legacy...

As a society, we're obsessed with the concept of legacy. We revel in achievement while simultaneously debating how it ranks among other historical achievements, and are often preoccupied with determining the achiever's place among others in their field, whether it's sports, politics, entertainment or something else.

Yet for a legacy-obsessed society, those who should be most concerned with preserving their own seem to make more than their share of mistakes. We've seen presidential scandals—both political and personal—and of course, athletes and entertainers are no strangers to controversy.

Which brings us to one of the media's favorite recent topics, Brett Favre. For years, Favre was football's golden boy, an athlete with the rugged determination of a champion and the soul of a choir boy. He decimated the record for the most consecutive games played and dazed opponents and teammates alike, all with an engaging smile. Fans mourned with him when he played shortly after the sudden death of his father, and supported him through his wife's battle with breast cancer. When he announced his retirement at the end of the 2007 season, it seemed like the perfect end to a storybook career.

And then he decided not to retire. From that point on, people began to question Favre's decision-making. Early on in the 2008 season as quarterback for the Jets, he seemed to vanquish his critics with stellar play, yet as the season headed toward the playoffs, the Jets collapsed.

And then Favre decided to retire again. But not really. Favre alienated the last of Green Bay's fans with his decision to play for the Minnesota Vikings, and had a storybook season which ended just short of the Super Bowl. Many thought that Favre would retire, but after much hemming and hawing, he opted to come back for one more season. The 2010 season, however, was far from storybook, with Favre suffering numerous injuries and defeats at the hands of his opponents.

While the 2010 season and what became an annual tradition of Favre vowing to retire and then returning may impact his legacy, the off-the-field scandals have certainly impacted the reputation of Favre the man.

The accusations of former Jets cheerleader Jenn Sterger that Favre sent numerous texts (including photos of his penis) and left voice mails begging her to spend evenings with him dented his family-man veneer, to the point that Wrangler dropped him as their spokesperson. And it's too soon to tell whether the lawsuit of two former masseuses who said they were fired by the Jets for refusing to sleep with Favre has any merit.

Ultimately, will all of this impact Favre's legacy? Former quarterback Kurt Warner says yes, at least in the short term. "To me, when I think of Favre, the first thing I think of [is] the chaos that's happened the last couple of years. Hopefully, within a couple of years, people will forget that and remember the kind of player he was on the field. I think in the short-term, he definitely hurt his legacy."

However, sportswriter Chris Chase says that it's rare that an athlete's post-career antics change his legacy, unless the antics reach the level of OJ Simpson or Roger Clemens. And although Favre did bounce back and forth between retiring and not, from team to team for a few years, football greats like Joe Montana and Emmitt Smith didn't retire after playing for the teams with whom they achieved their greatest heights, and their reputations aren't tarnished. (Montana's endorsement of Skechers' "tone-up" sneakers and Smith's victory on Dancing with the Stars are amusing, however.)

Many times, history is kinder than reality. Hopefully in this case, an athlete with the skills and achievements Favre had will be remembered for them rather than what he did off the gridiron.

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