Who Has Your Back?

I had everything working my way, strong as a bull. And still I ignored the rules of the game of life. - Lawrence Taylor. 

In 1999, Lawrence Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He’s still the most dominant football player I’ve ever seen, and despite his many run-ins with the law and himself, he is also one of the most solid friends and teammates anyone could ask for.

Nobody – Lawrence included – would endorse some of his personal behavior over the years. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a teammate utter a bad word about football’s greatest defender. In my own experience, Lawrence Taylor, for all his faults, was one of the smartest and most thoughtful guys I’ve ever worked with. He was there at the very beginning for me, before I established myself in the sports marketing business, when I was just a  face in the crowd and not a brand name.

If nobody knew my name at that point, EVERYBODY knew Lawrence’s. In New York, he was Derek Jeter before Derek Jeter. And whenever I needed something from LT – a signing, an appearance, a favor – I knew I could count on him.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t difficult to work with. I remember one time I was at Giants Training camp in Morristown. It was a classic summer afternoon of two-a-days, almost as hot as it was humid. I was sweating more than the players on the field.

Lawrence was supposed to sign 1,000 trading cards for us. I came out there and asked him if he could get it done after practice that day.

“Look at page 33 of my contract,” he said. “I still have another three weeks.”

I’m not sure how I reacted, but I can’t help but look back and laugh. LT really knew his stuff.

Still, whenever I think of Lawrence I think of the quote at the beginning of this post. He’s a man in possession of both unparalleled talent and an insatiable id. He’s been his own worst enemy.

But he always seemed to draw the line at being an enemy of others.

I think there’s something admirable about man who, while constantly battling his own demons, does his very best to make sure the people around him don’t fall victim to them as well. This has won him loyalty and affection from those who know him, like me.

When I think of LT, I’m also reminded of another superstar from the 80s – Robert Downey Jr. Like LT, Downey went through a ton of trouble of his own making, and for a while, it looked like his career in Hollywood was over.

But he came back, and today he’s one of the biggest box office draws in the world. Did Downey’s unique talents as an actor facilitate people giving him a second chance? Of course.  But the fact is that the powers that be in Hollywood liked him, and that due to his loyalty and personability, they gave him a second chance. All the talent in the world won’t get you a job if no one wants to work with you.

(It’s also important that Downey hasn’t betrayed the trust that came with his second stint in the spotlight.)

Eventually, inevitably, demons escape and wreak havoc. But for LT, I often wonder how much worse it could be. I wonder where he would be if he hadn’t at least tried to reign his demons in, if he hadn’t done right by people on an individual level.

I wonder: where would LT be if people didn’t want him in their huddle?

What about you? When things aren’t going so hot in your life, do you punish those around you? Or do you continue to treat them with love and respect – so that when you turn things around, they’ll be in your corner, cheering on your comeback and pushing you to even new heights? 

 


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