Little big men

National | "Too small" players stand tall while hoops giants sink lower

Issue: "Midterm elections 1998," Nov. 14, 1998

Brian Shay received lots of advice during his high-school football days, much of it negative: too short ... too slow ... too small for big-time, Division I college football. The 5'9", 180-pound running back heeded the comments and accepted a scholarship from Emporia State, a Division II school in Kansas. Late last month a 4th-quarter, 75-yard touchdown run against Central Missouri gave Mr. Shay, now a senior, 6,428 yards for his college career, the most ever gained in the history of college football. Since his high-school days, Mr. Shay has been on a mission to prove that he could do better than expected. He has built his body into a 220-pound powerhouse capable of lifting 700 pounds from a squat. His 40-yard-dash time is 4.4 seconds, nearly half a second better than his high-school time. "When people doubt me, it motivates me," he told Sports Illustrated. "My life story has been about people telling me I can't do things." Mr. Shay averages nearly 200 yards per game against the Division II teams, but pro scouts such as Ron Marciniak of the Baltimore Ravens are saying he is ready to go against National Football League competition. Now that he has muscled up while getting his sprint time down, the runner notes, "People say I'm the perfect size for an NFL running back, which is funny because four years ago I wasn't big enough to play Division I."
-Summer Skinner

An older 5'9" player also is gaining attention: 36-year-old Doug Flutie, a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1984 but was then dissed by most NFL teams (too small), only to become a star in the Canadian Football League (six-time winner of the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award). Mr. Flutie joined the Buffalo Bills this fall, and during October and early November he came off the bench to lead his team to a series of dramatic victories. But he's won a greater victory in the way he has overcome his dismay over the situation of his autistic son, Doug Flutie Jr. (Autism, portrayed in the 1988 movie Rain Man, is a biological brain disorder that severely hampers communication and socialization.) Six-year-old "Dougie," who only says a word here and there, will almost certainly never play football. Mr. Flutie and his wife were devastated at first-"What do you mean, autism?" they demanded. "We can't have a child who has a problem"-but he now is grateful for his son and is using a chunk of his salary to fund the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, devoted to helping poor families give their autistic children the training that will help them progress.
-Andrew Fox and Shu-Chiang Yong

The basics of the current, season-threatening National Basketball Association dispute seem clear: Player salaries make up 57 percent of the league's earnings, and owners want to lower that by a few percentage points. Players (average salary: $2.6 million) are trying to win fan sympathy by telling fans of their expenses: "The more you make, the more you spend," Kenny Anderson, point guard of the Boston Celtics, recently said. The New York Times reported the dire news that Mr. Anderson (who has a seven- year contract averaging $7 million per year) may be forced to sell one of his eight cars. (Should it be the Range Rover or the Mercedes?) The point guard spends $75,000 a year on insurance alone for his Porsche, Lexus, and six other vehicles, which cost him $50,000 to $120,000 each. Other expenses of Mr. Anderson, who lives with his wife and two young daughters in a Beverly Hills home that rents for $12,500 per month: $120,000 a year in pocket money for the star; $86,400 in child support for his two oldest daughters, ages 5 and 8, born to different women; and $250,000 for expenses of a marketing company that, among other things, promotes an acting career for Mrs. Anderson, who has done commercials and was once a regular on MTV. The Times did not list any charitable expenditures. Many basketball team owners, like many players, are greedy, but it's hard for most fans to worry that players will be "taken advantage of," as Michael Jordan worried on ESPN. Fans root hardest for the Brian Shays and Doug Fluties, not for those who seem to take for granted the extraordinary gifts that allow them to thrive at the highest levels of sport.
-Erin Hill

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