Every professional athlete who plays in Philadelphia especially knows that, if he opens his mouth to discuss just about anything, the immediacy of the modern news cycle will make sure whatever utterance was proclaimed will be overblown in a way the sports figure probably had not intended to. This sports town has a very unique and illustrious history of athletes making profound statements that they follow through on, as well as dumbfounded proclamations that end up defining his career more than his performance on the field. Nevertheless, the sports media is what it is because professional athletes are among the most confident, bold figures in the country and are notorious for the types of statements mentioned above.
Recently in Philadelphia, with all four teams at decidedly different points of their respective year, marquee figures from each club have taken to the soapbox to discuss various matters. A well-timed quote from a prolific figure within the organization can have long-lasting effects on the morale and state-of-mind of the team. By that same measure, a foot-in-mouth moment from a prominent player, coach, or executive can present irreversible issues that tend to snowball as problems persist. In a city with as much scrutiny over its sports teams, athletes must choose their words very carefully in Philadelphia.
For the Eagles, with OTAs getting started and the team congregating together for the first time on the heels of an active offseason, the media converged upon the Novacare complex in an attempt to gauge where certain members of the team were at mentally. The team’s most controversial decision, the release of DeSean Jackson, appeared to be a transaction made to rid a tight-knit locker room from one of its few outliers. Its bizarre how, less than two years ago, the boiling over within the Eagles locker room ripped the team from the inside out and brought the organization to depths it had not been to since the turn of the millennium. Now, with multiple seasons of turnover and the implementation of a new team culture, what once destroyed a roster is one of its greatest strengths. There were pressing questions asked to veteran players of the Eagles. Judging by their answers, I would say that strength and confidence as a team has only intensified.
The 76ers season has ended yet, until the results of the NBA lottery come out, there are those who still will question how they went about this season. It was no secret what the stagnant organization had in mind for how 2013-2014 was going to play out and, to their credit, things pretty much went according to play. Despite not even finishing with the worst record in the league, much more criticism has been tossed in Philadelphia’s direction than the miserable Milwaukee Bucks. With all of the top entries for the 2014 Draft having already declared, the slotting of the 76ers lottery pick will not prevent them from having the opportunity to draft a special talent. The type of talent that an organization can build upon is the apparent path to success in the NBA and, with the ability to draw a marquee free agent an uncertain science, many teams felt going through struggles this season was the fastest path to doing so. This past week, an NBA commissioner not even a year into his new positions, took a definitive stance on how he saw what the 76ers front office was doing. For one of the smartest men in the sports world, Silver’s answer should (but won’t) end the debate over the integrity of what Philadelphia did this season.
The Phillies preseason talk was generally met with rolled eyes and sarcastic laughter. Whether it was Jimmy Rollins lamenting preseason baseball or any of Ruben Amaro Jr.’s various laughable statements, a Phillies team with two seasons of disappointment in its wake was tough to take seriously going into this season. Yet, when the season started, the talking took to the field. By no means are the Phillies a refined product or even a legitimate contender at this point of the season. What they are, however, is a team that displays confidence on the field and, even in defeat, a resilience that has been absent from their play in the past two seasons. The veteran collection that makes up the team’s most vital pieces are a proud, confident bunch who have zero interest in laying down to appease the critics who labeled them as one of the worst products to take the field on the season. This year’s Phillies team might have something special to them. It is too early to tell, but we’ve seen some signs that there is a magic about the 2014 Phillies that died on the final out of the 2011 NLDS. We’ll just have to see how long it lasts and how far it can take them.
For how heavily scrutinized statements are over the course of each regular sports season, each one is magnified 10-times over when the playoffs role around. With a national spotlight shining down and each team looking for bulletin board material, each proclamation made in the media has to be chosen carefully and said with a purpose. The New York Rangers are a team whose most recent success is defined by a guarantee made by then-Captain Mark Messier en route to a Stanley Cup. Ironically, in a series against those same Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers captain and most important player, in the midst of a series where his presence on the ice is often joined by three defenders, decided to put his team’s success at the mercy of a guarantee of his own. If one needs to know who is the emotional leader of the Orange and Black, look no further than the player whose neutralization is the number one priority of the team’s opponents. The captain of the team doesn’t always have to be the best player on the ice, but he does have to show the ability to bring out the best in his teammates. Something that Claude Giroux did when desperation was starting to set in and the team had its backs against the wall.