Commentary

Athletes, musicians and 'controlled rage'

Originally Published: February 29, 2012
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

Duff McKagan and Dirk NowitzkiAP PhotoDuff McKagan says athletes and musicians share many common bonds, with one huge exception.

A lot has been made of the parity between musicians and athletes. The question is often asked of a musician, "Wow! I didn't know you were so into sports. How did that happen?" The very same surprise can chase around pro athletes when they are heard blasting hip-hop music in the clubhouse, or when they attend a rock concert.

The arenas of playing sports and playing live music are not that far apart, after all, if you take a closer look into the two things. It comes down to what I call the "rage factor."

An inside force, such as rage, can make a person try to be the best they can be at what they do. Controlled rage can then be turned outward in a performance, whether it is on the field or on the stage.

Rehearsing for countless hours is not something one just does; there has to be a type of person who will do this thing. The same can be said for athletes. Sure, some have a natural talent -- but most simply have to work their ass off to just keep getting better.

Another similarity, from what I have observed, is that great athletes and successful musicians have a very strong tendency to be Type A people: real go-getters who don't have to be told or forced to practice or perform at the highest level of human endurance and aggression. Again, this is a general view, and there are definitely outliers to this train of thought (Allen Iverson comes to mind, I suppose). And yes, aggressiveness is key to both the musician and the athlete.

And what about the adulation?

Most of us who are breathing and making our own financial way in life (whether you are a truck driver or cook or bank teller) work our damn tails off, and most people will never know how hard you work. But imagine toiling away, with the hopes that it someday will get recognized by a room packed with people screaming your name? It might get you to work even harder if you know it will go public in some way, shape or form. That is just human nature, right?

Musicians and athletes also both operate outside of the norm. If you ask top athletes or musicians, I bet you neither group would say they were slated for the 9-to-5 skullduggery. They feel somehow different than most. Not necessarily better, mind you, just different. It's a road where failure is not an option, because if there is failure, there is often no backup plan.

Over the years, I have seen everyone from John McEnroe to Dennis Rodman to Raul Ibanez at rock shows that I have been a part of. There seems to be an unspoken understanding. We know every airport. We know the elation of victory. We know the downside of being away from those we hold close as family and friends. We know defeat. Your careers have their ebbs and flows, and never does there seem to be any real stability.

There is a big difference between the two groups, however. So far, there are no random urine tests in rock and roll, for "performance-enhancing" drugs. Unless, of course, there is a court order, but that is another story ... for another day.


Musician Duff McKagan -- who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and now has his autobiography out -- writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."