Colts tight end Dwayne Allen drew rave reviews last week for his frank warning to this year’s rookies regarding the dangers of not separating from pre-NFL friends who could get the rookies in to trouble.
While Allen makes plenty of sense, it’s far from easy for a pro athlete to turn his back on the people he knows and trusts.
Warts or not, a pro athlete’s friends often trace back to the days long before fame and money arrived at the front door. They’ve been there through the good times and bad, and the athlete usually has a strong emotional attachment to them.
“A lot of people are afraid of the words, ‘Oh man, you different,’” Allen told the rookies. And Allen is right, because those words typically are a sign that the friendship is in jeopardy. Most people don’t want to lose friendships they value, and they don’t want to create the impression that they’ve abandoned people they love like brothers.
Making things even harder for a pro athlete who decides to sever ties with his childhood friends is the prospect of replacing them when fame and money may attract new friends who don’t really care about the player, but who want to sit in the splash zone of the money and the fame.
Then there’s the fact that rookies are still kids, in many ways. Naive, gullible, inexperienced kids. Telling them to abandon their friends is like telling them to ditch their families.
For plenty of players, friends and family are intertwined, making it even harder to get away.
Ultimately, there’s a fine line between an athlete protecting himself and behaving selfishly. Players whose childhood friends could be bad influences basically need to be selfish enough to tolerate being accused of selfishness, and sufficiently cold hearted to walk away from people they care about.