Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Athletes Find It Hard to Keep No-Frills Focus

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Athletes Find It Hard to Keep No-Frills Focus

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Freeman, Times-Union sports columnist

If there was one thing that Maria Sharapova's Wimbledon victory proved -- besides the fact there is a nice game behind those gams -- it is that distractions kill.

Across the sports world, athletes are being taken down by their datebooks, swallowed whole by their BlackBerry pagers.

Take Serena Williams. She was beaten as much by her own fame and hectic life as she was by Sharapova's athleticism.

How do you maintain the ferocious single-mindedness required to stay great when the acting coach is on line two? Williams has been doing commercials, shooting movies, and overall spending more and more moments away from tennis.

There's the clothing line to manage. The McDonald's commercial to film. There's the car guy. The pool guy. The massage guy. The tile guy. The lawn engineer.

She's not alone. From soccer to stock cars, from basketball to baseball, athletes are having fits fitting fame into their skeds. Perhaps Tiger Woods' recent slump of no wins in the past eight majors can be traced back to the beginning of another streak: when he began shooting a commercial every other day. Is the Empire Formerly Known as Tiger on the decline because golf has taken a back seat to endorsements?

The New England Patriots have become a dynasty because their face time on TV has been minimal. The opposite could be said for the previous champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Did Jeff Gordon's mini-slump, recently broken, come because he was shooting too many Pepsi commercials?

There are other types of distractions, too. Since sprinter Marion Jones became the fastest woman in the world, she has been under intense scrutiny, accused of possible blood doping. Jones hasn't been the same runner since the BALCO scandal engulfed her, though the upcoming Olympics will be the true test of her grit. …

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