For the past few years, every now and then I’d lose my temper over the tendency of NFL broadcasters and writers to let Brett Favre off the hook for his poor play just because of his “aw shucks, I love playing the game” attitude. I came to call it the “St. Favre” syndrome, and what bothered me about it was that things had gotten to the point where his attitude was being used to excuse the mistakes he was making on the field – it was almost as if the announcers were saying, “Oh, it’s OK that Brett just made that terrible throw down the middle of the field into double coverage; he’s a great guy; it’s OK.” Well, it wasn’t OK; it’s never OK for a professional athlete, when the question of his/her performance is the issue at question, to get a free pass for something that they’ve done away from the playing field.
As you may have heard, Brett Favre is having a wonderful season this year, and has gone a long way towards erasing the memory of the last few years. For his performance and his attitude, he has been named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. It’s a richly deserved award, and those who might criticize it probably don’t understand the concept behind the award. It is an award based both on what happens on and away from the playing field. Non-athletes have won it (Joe Paterno, for instance), as have athletes who’ve had better years without winning it (Jack Nicklaus comes to mind). This year, there have been grumbles that the award should have gone to Roger Federer, who completed yet another year of transcendent excellence on the tennis court. I would have had no problem if he’d won the award, but at the same time I wouldn’t have suggested him for it either, because his pursuit of excellence over a relatively short period – in my book – doesn’t match Favre’s approach to the game and life that have been consistent hallmarks of his entire career. He’s not perfect; he admits it. He made mistakes in the past, and took steps to deal with them. As an athlete, he comes as close as anyone to personifying the ideal – what one would hope for in a sportsman. For that, he deserves the praise.
In short, Favre was a great choice.