When I was in middle school, my grandfather took me and my brother to see a one-man show called “A Bronx Tale”. Going in, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But, once the curtains opened, I was hooked.
After the show, we somehow managed to get backstage. Suddenly, I found myself shaking hands with Chazz Palminteri, the star of the show which is based on his real life story.
He was a really nice guy, and made it a point to talk with us for a while. Then, just before leaving, he looked us in the eye and said “boys, if you remember nothing else, remember this”. He handed us both a card that read: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent“.
Those words have stuck with me ever since that night, and I often find myself recognizing examples of wasted talent in real life. You’ll see it every day if you look hard enough. But, when it comes to sports, you don’t have to look far.
The NFL is a prime example. Players with all the God-given talent in the world can throw their entire career out the window with one bad decision.
In 2015, Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain was suspended for 4 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The next season, he was suspended again. This time for 10 games.
Then, he failed another drug test and was suspended indefinitely. Now, at the age of 28, the former 8th overall pick will likely never play another down of professional football.
In May of 2014, after forgoing his junior season at Texas A&M, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel entered the NFL. By March of 2016, he was out. He partied too hard, drank too much, missed team meetings, and alienated those that stood by him.
At one point, Manziel’s own father told ESPN that “he’s a druggie…I hope he goes to jail…I mean, that would be the best place for him”. Now, just 25-years-old, Manziel is desperate for another shot.
In 2012, Aldon Smith racked up 19.5 sacks, good for 2nd in the league behind J.J. Watt. He totaled 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons, getting there faster than Reggie White — the greatest pass rusher of all-time. He had all the makings of the league’s next superstar.
Then, after three DUI’s and a hit and run, the 49ers released him. He latched on with the Raiders, who cut him last month after a domestic violence incident. Two weeks ago, he was arrested for violating conditions of his bail.
Just last month, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles traded for promising 23-year-old cornerback Daryl Worley. Pundits thought it was a steal, citing his youth and potential. Fans were excited too, noting Worley’s Philadelphia roots.
All of that quickly washed away when police found Worley passed out in his car blocking the highway. He faces six charges, one of which is a felony. Unsurprisingly, he cleared waivers after the Eagles released him as he looks to get his life back on track.
With the NFL Draft just a week away, teams are geared up to acquire the best young talent possible. But while analysts debate which prospect has the highest ceiling, teams should turn their attention to a player’s character.
After all, these teams are drafting people. Real human beings with lives off the gridiron. Talent can only take a person so far.
In the end, it’s character that determines what a player will ultimately become.
Want More Underdog Stories?
Get a bite-sized rundown of the best underdog stories in sports – handpicked from across the web & delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.Join 2,055+ Weekly Readers