Friday, May 8, 2020

A Question You Have to Ask: What If Michael Jordan Had Played Football?

I lived in south, rural Louisiana from 1996 to 1998, while teaching in the Alliance for Catholic Education Program (through Notre Dame). My time there is characterized by memories made from the simplest of questions which became the most spirited of debates. Living in Napoloeonville, Louisiana—a town of 800 people—we didn't have cell phones, anything more than the most basic cable and our internet access was very limited. Time passed slowly. As new teachers doing service we didn't have money or knowledge of that many places to go. But, when we took road trips or made the 20 mile drive to the closest movie theater, we had a lot. We had questions and we had answers--or so we thought.

Thinking about it now, those days aren't much different—and yet they are—that life today. That being said, I know the question I'm about to share with you would be an ACE Gators favorite: If Michael Jordan had played football.... go ahead. Fill in the blank. 

I start my day with EPSN's Sports Daily. Today's podcast, "Michael Jordan's Brief, Strange Life in Baseball" served as the perfect preview for Episodes 7 and 8 of "The Last Dance." Thanks to another ESPN 30 for 30: Jordan Rides the Bus, I am already somewhat with Jordan's successes and struggles playing America's past time. This particular episode—an interview between Mina Kimes and ESPN senior writer Steve Wulf—did one of two things. It strengthened my belief and value for why athletes should play more than one sport AND it set my imagination soaring. 

ESPN Sports Daily writes: 
In the midst of becoming the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA and set his sights on baseball. The reason? To pay homage to his recently slain father. Jordan training with the White Sox and joining the minor leagues created major media buzz, as ball players and fans criticized the move. Steve Wulf was with Sports Illustrated at the time, and his 1994 coverage of Jordan's foray into baseball made news of its own, as it angered MJ himself. Wulf tells us about Michael's efforts to succeed with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, and how Jordan may have been closer than we know to being called up to bigs, had he not returned to basketball.

Having already watched "Jordan Rides the Bus," I was familiar with Jordan's success and his limitations with America's past time. Just listening to the interview of Wulf break it down further, did one of two things. It strengthened my belief and value for why athletes should play more than one sport AND it set my imagination soaring.

In the limited time he did play with the Birmingham Barons, several truths emerged, one that speaks to his character in a significant way: he was an outstanding teammate. Wulf said, "He went from being 'the man to one of the guys." He added, "They respected him because he was competitive, they admired his work ethic and he didn't act like a superstar." He began with a 13 game hitting streak but struggled to hit the curve. Any athlete who plays two sports will shine in one and serve another role in the other. To me, sitting on both ends of the bench makes you a better teammate and competitor. Sports fans should rightfully wonder what would have become of MJ had the season not been shortened by the strike. And, as much as I value that question, I have been asking myself a different one. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it. I want to know: How good would Michael Jordan be on the gridiron? 

A good friend, who coaches football offered a fantastic response. He said "Let’s see...high level skilled athlete, confidence through the roof and a fierce competitor...yeah, I think he could have been all right. I wouldn’t say that about all hoops players, especially today’s breed." Noted.

Has anyone else thought of what MJ would be like as a football player? Every highlight reel sets off another internal debate in my mind. What position would he play? Of course he could play on both sides of the ball—just as he did in the NBA (not a given!).  I have had more fun asking this question that COVID quarantine should allow. So I put it out there for you to ask and answer.
Just when I think I have things figured out, a friend offers a compelling reason for where he should play and why.

Same friend said Wide Receiver. He wrote: "Cannot see anyone guarding him. He would be better than Randy Moss. Maybe OLB on defense. Some of the more modern schemes would fit him well. Hey, if he can throw a little...imagine him at QB... definitely has the confidence for it." Another said "Jordan would have been a great defensive back. And then older with muscle, a tight end. Yeah, big but fast. Fit but fast. Low body fat." Personally, I'd like to just ask MJ what he thinks! 

One of the compelling aspects of sport is that each one speaks to different personalities, and accommodates for various body types and skill sets. When a great athlete comes to play and compete, it's exciting to think about what they could do and how they would do it. Who knows? Maybe MJ would have hated grass and grime, flags, face masks and pylons. I doubt it so I'll let this debate continue. And amidst our days that might be a little slower, a little less harried—see where and how far this conversation with go.

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