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Perceptions not reality in professional sports
Published 9/27/2012 6:00:00 AM
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Rick Wood/Milwuakee Journal SentinelSeahawks QB Russell Wilson throws a pass against the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.

We all know the importance of reputations. Impressions matter. Consistency matters.

People assign labels based on impressions, and whether they are assumptions or not, they stick better than industrial-strength adhesive. In the sports world, once athletic teams and their players develop a reputation, they cannot shake it, no matter what they do.

That needs to change.

Fans and critics have to stop assigning these obsolete labels that don’t make sense anymore. The dichotomies of good versus bad and winning versus losing have always existed, but applying them to the same teams every year has become all too common.

Look at the Seattle Seahawks. They entered this year with four consecutive losing record seasons and have never won a Super Bowl. They are pegged as an untalented team that draws support only from its home fans.

This should not be the case.

With the acquisition of Russell Wilson and an improvement on defense, this team has a chance to win the NFC West. Their reputation makes winning seem unlikely, but the current circumstances prove otherwise.

The Arizona Cardinals are another example. The team has a reputation of playing even worse than the Seahawks in past seasons, and this year they look like a team that could go to the Super Bowl. They beat the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles teams with winning reputations.

How is this possible if the good teams are always supposed to beat the bad teams?

In baseball, the same assumptions occur. For years, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays played like teams destined to remain in the bowels of the American League East division.

The Rays and Orioles have turned things around in the past few years, though. This season, they both are competing for a playoff spot along with their division rival, the New York Yankees. They have even surpassed the Boston Red Sox, a team with a winning tradition tainted only by a cursed past.

The Red Sox have always commanded a boyish reputation characterized by immaturity and looseness, probably because of the constant comparison to the no-nonsense, business-oriented Yankees.

This kind of characterization creates problems as well. Whenever the team loses, people will use that reputation as an excuse, whether the reputation is true anymore or not. When the team wins, their reputation will get swept under the rug until the circumstances call for its return.

The circumstances should rule the reputation, not the other way around.

We must ask ourselves how well a'bad'team must play to change its reputation to'good.'We must consider the criteria for what makes a'good'team in the first place. Is it a brilliant season? Is it resilience through adversity? Do blowout wins have more merit than comeback wins?

Expectations for winning should never disappear, but then again, every fan believes their team will win it all before the season starts.

On any given day, a team can win. In any given season, a team can succeed. It takes an objective eye to see circumstances should dictate the outcome of a season, not reputation.

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