Like many people, I enjoy laughing at an lolcow from time to time. Tonight, for example, I amused myself by watching a video about Ryan Leaf, one of the worst ever players drafted in the NFL. In 1998, it was a serious debate whether Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would have a better career, and not too long after that it was increasingly clear that only one player would “cut that meat.” To be sure, Ryan Leaf had arm strength and immense physical skills, but was simply unable to cope with the pressure or deal well with others, and being synonymous with failure and struggling to deal with the pain of football has made him a byword for unsuccessful players and disastrous choices as leaders of teams. Peyton Manning, on the other hand, was one of the more accomplished quarterbacks of his generation, and is an almost certain lock for being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame . One QB ends up with multiple felony arrests and the other ends up with a Super Bowl ring and a children’s hospital named after him, and yet both were considered to be equally likely to succeed. What happened?
We live in an age that seeks to quantify insights and distill intuition and gut feeling into quantifiable data. As someone who works a lot with data, I am not opposed to this trend in principle . The skills that separate some people from others in terms of the likelihood of success are intangibles, largely because they have been difficult to quantify. And yet it is possible to connect qualities to success through correlation studies, if one works at it. One of the qualities that often leads to success, at least in football, is having family members who have done it before. There appears to be at least some advantage in having the right pedigree, and in having the encouragement of someone who knows the stress and pressure of being an NFL player, trying to avoid dumb decisions like antagonizing the viewing public through stupid political antics, or fathering a bunch of children with different women and frittering away one’s income through child support payments, or getting caught up in a partying lifestyle like Johnny Football and others who have let a lot of talent go to waste.
What does it take to succeed in football as a quarterback, for example? Well, it is necessary to have at least some physical gifts, like the strength to throw a ball with enough power to force defenses to cover all over the field and enough accuracy to hit an open player at a considerable distance away. Quarterbacks are one of the highest pressure positions on the field, and are field generals of the offense, often relied upon for a certain amount of intelligence and canniness. They take a lot of hits both physically and metaphorically and need a high degree of resilience to deal with the pressure that defenses bring and that the expectations and the weight of hopes and dreams of one’s team brings. Some players have a lot of talent but simply cannot deal with the pressure of the limelight and the potential for failure, and simply lack the psychological makeup to succeed. Some people who could do very fine in places out of the way simply do not have the ability to handle the pressure to make it under the bright lights with all the attention on them, and people are wise to know where they are best suited. It is not a negative thing to know that one cannot handle the glare and to avoid it, at least until one has built up one’s strength to handle it.
One of the reasons why this matters is because in some ways sports provides a metaphor for life. There are many lives that can be lived well in some degree of obscurity, but if one has conspicuous talents and gifts, then one will tend to live a life that draws attention to matter what one does. Proverbs 22:29 tells us: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men.” This is a saying that generally applies no matter what we do. Those who do things in an excellent way will draw attention to themselves, and with that attention will come scrutiny and envy and pressure and the expectation to keep up with one’s standard of excellence and to improve. How do we live so that we can be aware of that pressure without being overwhelmed by it, and how do we live so that we may help build up and encourage other people under pressure as well? It is all too well and easy to laugh at lolcows and to help tear down those who have shown themselves unable to take the heat and the pressure that this world throws at us. It is a far more noble thing to see in the object lessons of those around us the motivation we need to overcome the difficulties that could bring us down if we were unwary and heedless.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: