Awards are just complements…Former Detroit Lions Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson
As most of you know, I am a football fan.
Let me emphasize that I am a fan, not a fanatic.
I am specifically a Dallas Cowboys fan, but I acknowledge the greatness of great players no matter what team they play for. I especially admire the players who are intelligent enough and wise enough to realize that pro football, like all professional sports (and arguably college sports as well), is a business and publicly comport themselves accordingly.
Calvin Johnson, probably the best wide receiver to ever play the game from a talent and ability standpoint, retired from the National Football League (NFL) in his prime at the age of 30 in 2016.
Like former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who also retired from the NFL in the prime of their careers (aged 29 and 28, respectively), Calvin Johnson cited injuries and wanting to preserve his quality of life going forward as his primary reasons for retiring.
NOTE: This is the first thing I admire about Johnson. Doing what is logical and beneficial for yourself and not conforming to other people’s expectations for you when you are so valuable to them takes conviction.
Despite my educated belief that the NFL scripts the outcomes of its own games for ratings (and profits), the hits, the physical toll of playing the game, and the talent it takes to play at the professional level in football are quite real.
Arguably, Johnson kicked off the recent trend of early retirements by elite NFL players. In my opinion, these players are exercising a great degree of wisdom by walking away at the right time. For them…
I think what Johnson, Luck, and Kuechly did is admirable because as I said, it takes courage to walk away from success in order start the next chapter of your life, especially when it appears that you have more to accomplish in the current chapter, at least from the perspective of others.
This point is perfectly encapsulated by the quote that open this post. Johnson’s quote above is powerful in its simplistic logic.
What are awards if they are not indeed just simply complements?
And that leads to the second reason I admire Calvin Johnson…
In western society, we tend to attach far too much importance to awards and the external validation they represent.
Most people often strive not just for success, or helping their organizations become successful, or providing inspiration to elevate teammates to succeed, but rather seek individual recognition and reward as a primary objective.
The award or recognition is more important to these people because the external validation is all that truly matters to them. This is what I derisively call “participation trophy mentality”.
Just like being nice to people purely to reap some benefit for being nice means you are not really a nice person, working hard strictly for recognition is a sign of immaturity.
Don’t get me wrong, awards and recognition are are important. Being complemented with an award is indeed a great honor and a great motivator. It is the highest form a complement can take, so I do not want to appear as if I am minimizing the importance of awards.
My point, and I believe this goes to Johnson’s point, is that awards and recognition should not be one’s motive for performing at a high level. Performing at a high level is its own reward. Being amongst the best at what you do (or striving to be amongst the best) is something one should set as a goal simply because it is the right way to think and act.
Just like success is a byproduct of providing value, awards are a byproduct of a job well done. A job that provided value. Ergo, providing value is the objective, not doing things just to seek recognition for doing something.
Johnson put up hall of fame numbers for a perennially bad football team. He compromised his physical well-being for a team that only viewed him as a commodity to be exploited. People filled the seats at Ford Field in Detroit mainly to see “Megatron” play, often in a losing effort.
What did Megatron get for his nine years of record-setting effort that the Detroit Lions Football club very clearly profited off of?
Johnson was asked to repay a portion of his signing bonus for retiring with years left on his contract. He repaid the team one million dollars of his signing bonus:
Asking this man who did so much and meant so much to his team to pay back any portion of his signing bonus is the ultimate insult and proof that while awards are just complements, business is very clearly just business and actions speak louder than words.
The Detroit Lions obviously did not appreciate Johnson as much as everyone else appreciated him
Going out on top like Calvin Johnson did and knowing when to walk away from a lopsided business arrangement despite the lucrative compensation is something most people in his position simply would not do.
Thinking of long-term health for his and his family’s sake is definitely the smartest choice to make.
Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.
-The Rational Ram
SUPPLEMENTAL NOTE: Calvin Johnson was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2021 and will be inducted before the start of the 2021 NFL season.
Calvin Johnson is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His eloquent speech further validates what this writer (et al) says about him and his impeccable character: