I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty of the common misconception that most professional athletes are pampered, self-centered jerks who brush their teeth with Cristal and wipe their bottoms with pages from the Bill of Rights. At least, that's the impression we get now that ESPN is taking its cues from TMZ and the louder and more annoying an athlete is, the more the media covers him.
Our starstruck society is just as interested in athletes' clubbing outings as they are in their club's standings. Athletes now have PR people in addition to their agents and entourages. Just to get a real glimpse at an athlete in the flesh, you have to break through three or four levels of protection.
That's what makes HBO's football reality series Hard Knocks so unique and compelling. Normally, we see pro football players on Sundays (or on Monday nights or the occasional Thursday), then we hear about them in the police blotter sometime during the week. Hard Knocks, which this season follows the promising New York Jets during training camp, shows us everything that goes on before America's favorite five-month sporting stretch.
HBO Sports, the sports gurus that give us the incredible pre-boxing match hype series 24/7, mash together unrestricted access, objectivity, and some of the best documentary filmmaking in the business today for a stunning look at the game within the game. And you don't have to be a sports fan to get sucked in because it's not all X's and O's
We know quarterback Mark Sanchez. But we didn't know about the Jets' coaches wanting to keep their daughters away from him. We know coach Rex Ryan is a loudmouth. But we didn't know he's willing to pay a team fine for more pretzel M&Ms; (okay, we could have guessed that one, given his waistline). We know about the Jets' superstars. But we didn't know the stories about the upstarts trying to make the team and exactly how huge the difference between making an NFL team and scuttling around the AFL is.
And the profanity! Oh boy, to hear coaches drop F-bombs like they mean it... Hard Knocks is a treasure trove of sailor speak. But it's not used sensationally; it's a part of the game, and you'll only hear it on Hard Knocks.
Hard Knocks airs Wednesdays on HBO at 10pm. You can catch up on HBO On Demand.