I was pondering today the significance of a professional athlete's personality in regards to their perception by other players, media and fans.
As the Bettis love-bus rolls on this week and some are debating his merit as a hall of famer and his place among the all-time great running backs I am becoming further convinced this would not even be an issue if Jerome was a jerk. Would he have survived Cowher's doghouse had he demanded all the carries and acted like a petulant child the last couple of seasons (as some others have done in his position)? Doubtful. His career may have ended right there. He was a good guy and good teamate. However, his weaknesses (career yards per carry is only 3.9) are generally glossed over and his strengths (look how nimble this fat guy's feet are and how he drags tacklers!) are often over-rated. I've said it before, Bettis has been a good running back. Not great, but good over a long period of time. Does that make him a hall of famer? Personally I don't think so but you can't deny longevity has played a role in many good (not great) athletes getting hall of fame votes (especially in baseball).
Personality plays a huge part in how we perceive athletes and the slack we cut or don't cut for them. Brett Favre gets very little criticism and his achievements are often blown out of proportion. We like him. When Terrell Owens finally plays again any mistakes he makes on the field will also be overrated. We don't like him. Chad Johnson can act brash and cocky yet he's a likeable guy. We give him a little rope. When Michael Jordan was a one-man team for the Bulls in the 80's there was some criticism but for the most part he was right in the beginning stages of idol-worship. We really liked him. Kobe Bryant is a one-man team right now but he's been an idiot in the past and we don't like him. Charles Barkley and Karl Malone both were great players but couldn't bring championships to their teams. Yet Malone is criticized far more than Barkley for this. Not a surprise. While Malone generally avoids the jerk label it is not hard to see that Barkley is the more likeable guy.
I'm sure agents wish they could bottle a magic personality formula and serve it to all their athlete clients (although some agents like Scott Borus and Drew Rosenhaus would need a dose themselves). There is always going to be more money, praise, fame, and opportunity for guys that we want to love. I guess that's ok. I wouldn't want it the other way around.