Athletes have rule books to govern their games but not to guide their lives. Where's the manual that warns them that the sight of their actress girlfriends hand-feeding them popcorn will trigger an entire nation's gag reflex? Why isn't there a page telling them where to shop for a sympathy card that says, "Sorry I left your school on probation when I turned pro"? Shouldn't it be written down somewhere that they should never appear on Dancing with the Stars? These are thorny issues that dog the modern-day athlete, so here at last is a set of tips to help him handle critical moments throughout his career—from schoolboy days to the golden years.
This is an article from the June 20, 2011 issue
When you make a recruiting visit and the school provides you with a "student hostess" who makes Reese Witherspoon look like Clarence Weatherspoon, immediately cross that program off your list. It will be on probation by the time you get back to the airport.
If your dad starts urging you to choose a certain school at around the same time he buys a new boat, and he names the vessel Plausible Deniability, there's probably something he's not telling you.
No matter how many recruiters whisper that your standardized test scores "will be taken care of," continue to act like a normal high school student. Don't arouse suspicion by spending the entire SAT testing session folding the answer sheets into origami cranes.
Ask your prospective college's star power forward to take you to the university library. If he can get you there before nightfall without Google Maps and a GPS, congratulations, you just might have found a reputable program.
If you're going to violate NCAA rules, it's safer to accept freebies from car dealerships than from tattoo parlors. With tats, you can't leave the evidence by the side of the road, and you won't be able to convince anyone that your new ink actually belongs to your cousin—he's just letting you borrow it.
When someone tells you to leave school early to turn pro and start making money, consider the source. If it's Jerry West, the man behind several NBA title teams, listen to him. If it's your uncle Jerry, the man behind on several credit-card bills, do not.
Before you go to a frat party, use your cellphone to take a picture of yourself holding a Coors Light with a goofy smile, your eyelids at half-mast and your shirt on inside out, and e-mail it to every snarky, gossipy blog you can think of. This will save everyone else at the party the trouble of doing so later on.
On draft day, do not wear the chartreuse three-piece suit with the burgundy bow tie. When you look at the pictures years from now, you will sob quietly, overcome with regret.
When you start dating an actress—and you will—hold off on the engagement ring for a while. Movie stars like being romantically linked to athletes in the tabloids for the same reason some players take performance-enhancing drugs: It's a quick way to boost a fading career. If her pet name for you is Stanozolol, it's probably not true love.
Before you take a self-portrait to text to that special someone, ask yourself a question: Am I wearing pants? If the answer is no, back away from the cellphone. If it's yes, double-check, just to be sure.
Keep in mind that if you say, "Do you know who I am?" when a cop pulls you over, not only is he unlikely to care, but he may also give you a second ticket under a little-known statute that makes it a misdemeanor to be a pompous gasbag.
Make a list of all the pro athletes who have ever successfully defended themselves with a gun. That didn't take long, did it? Now make a list of all the pro athletes who have hurt themselves or someone else or have found themselves in legal trouble because they were carrying a gun. Do you know what these two lists are telling you? That you should not own anything more dangerous than a Super Soaker.
It is bad form to complain that your old team hasn't erected a statue in your honor. Even if it finally builds you one, the inscription on the base will probably read, THERE. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? GEEZ.
If you become a broadcaster after your playing career, it is imperative that you avoid making any off-color or otherwise offensive comments on the air, incurring any major gambling debts or being caught in any compromising situation. The only way to keep your job after such missteps is to be: 1) immediately and sincerely apologetic and remorseful; or 2) Charles Barkley.
Finally, if you have stayed true to the manual, there will be no need to subject the world to another athlete's autobiography. You will have nothing to confess, explain, reveal, retract or refute, for which the public will be grateful. You will have earned the right to do anything you want—except Dancing with the Stars. That's still a deal-breaker.
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