It really takes a certain type of human being to stain an impeccable on-the-field legacy with off-the-field transgressions. It takes something completely special, something that’s rare or never been done before, something that can overshadow years upon years of accomplishments.
Joe Paterno is the most glaring example of a stained legacy. In one week’s time, Paterno went from the greatest coach in college football history to fired and under fire for the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. Within months, he died, and his legacy, forever, was tainted. Rae Carruth and Adam Jones are more prime examples, having undone potentially great pro football careers with off-the-field indisgressions.
There are others who’ve done things after their playing careers are over to stain their on-field legacies. Players who went completely bankrupt, made bad investments, ended up out on their luck. All of this plays into their legacy in the public view because it’s the next chapter in their book. It’d be great to sit back and say how the book ends with the touchdown to win the Super Bowl, the last World Series, or the retirement announcement in front of smiling, adoring media. But the fact remains that after they step away, athletes remain in the public eye, and the book keeps on writing itself even if they don’t want it to.
That leads us to Curt Schilling. Schilling as a player had both a notorious and infamous reputation. He was a bulldog, a big game pitcher, someone who took the mound with the flair for the moment unlike any other potentially in history. Schilling was the alpha dog even when injured; he might not have had anything on his pitches, but he could reach back for a vintage performance and gut through six or seven innings to put his team in a position to win a game.
Throughout his career, he was known for his meticulous notes, his study of the game, his tireless attention to detail and preparation. He was also known, from time to time, as a blowhard, someone who enjoyed riling up media members with soundbites about current teammates and others. He had an opinion about everything, whether it was popular or not, and he let his feelings known every single day.
When Schilling retired, fans and media members alike put him in the top echelon of pitcher because of his on-field legend. They made footnotes of how he was a pain in the you-know-what to deal with, accepting it as part of the package that came with his ability to lead by example. He was the perfect alpha dog for a major media market, the perfect player to come in and lead Boston to its first World Series in 86 years.
If Curt Schilling did nothing else for the rest of his days, the book would write itself with how he lived on as Curt Schilling – the man who broke the Curse of the Bambino. He’d remain a local legend, make his appearances on talk radio, and he’d be a character of the ghosts of Red Sox past. Instead, Schilling, a known video game enthusiast, decided to bankroll a studio and run a business with the intention of conquering the video game industry.
From start to finish, Schilling’s business plan was fatally flawed. He was a fish out of water, running a studio with people who had no idea how to run a studio in the video game industry. But that didn’t stop aggressive development. He grew the studio’s size, acquired developers and testers, with the intention of releasing his own massively multiplayer online role player game.
It was a nice idea in theory. Schilling, a known enthusiast to MMORPG games in his own right, wanted to stamp his legacy based on what he’d played. He’d been playing Everquest and Everquest 2 for so long that he saw some things in the games he liked, saw some things he didn’t like, developed his own storyline and character idea around both those aspects, and developed the bankroll to see it through to fruition.
It’s how most businesses get started. Schilling, ever the alpha dog, couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the game for what people were telling him about it. He couldn’t just accept what was good and bad alike, hoping for fixes to address a player’s complaints. Instead, he had to build his own, deciding it was a good idea to work out a deal where he could take all of these ideas as a gamer and implement them with the intention of being his own boss in a world he loved. His legacy would then rewrite itself to show how he went from successful ballplayer to successful entrepreneur, a story that would surely serve as inspiration to thousands.
Unfortunately, what Schilling didn’t realize is that this isn’t just about joining up, designing a game, and POOF – you’re great at it. It’s an industry with titan companies that spent decades building video game empires. Video gamers are a fickle bunch; they’re intensely loyal to their brands, and jumping into those brands to try and make a dent on them is nearly impossible at times. The only way to truly make a dent and make a company known is to have the pedigree and product to dominate a segment of the population.
For independent game companies not on par with places like EA Games, Rockstar, or Blizzard, that means finding a segment or demographic that’s never been touched, which is completely rare. The only other option then is to find an influx of cash and spend it wisely to create a smash product to rival the games those companies are putting out.
With a sweetheart deal from the state of Rhode Island, Schilling had the cash investment by way of a $75 million loan. But the company’s first game was a total flop, mired in developmental hell, then released with bugs, poor graphics in comparison to some of the other games out there, and, despite decent sell rates, is considered, on the long term, as a failure.
With the company defaulting on its loan payment, scrambling to wire money back to the state, and a game of political chess developing, Schilling’s been curiously quiet in the media. His truculent nature with reporters contrasts sharply with the affable, smiling face on television, and it is a sharp, 180-degree turn from his time as a player. The camera images of Schilling briskly walking out of hearings and meetings, practically shoving his way through a chaos of reporters, as he mumbles something and gets in a car which promptly speeds away – they’re not the Curt Schilling we’ve known from his days as a player and afterwards.
All of this highlights Schilling’s alter-ego as a player, the one that threw players and managers under the proverbial bus for doing something disagreeable to him. It brings back the images of him covering his ears and head with a towel when Mitch Williams tried to close out games for him in Philadelphia, and it resembles his remarks aboutManny Ramirez at a time when the internal clubhouse was struggling to keep Manny in check.
It’s the Schilling that existed but was ignored, and now it’s public knowledge. With the revelation of 38 Studios’ terminations coming via email instead of in person, it’s resembling more that Schilling is just trying to run and hide. He’s trying like hell to not admit he’s failed as a video game executive, even though his partner in this mess is a public government (never a good sign for anything). And he’s running from the fact he’s not invincible, even though when he looks in the mirror he thinks he is.
This whole situation is bad. People lost their jobs. An icon is being brought down. And a state government is at the center of the controversy, signaling a failed investment by elected officials to better the lives of their constituents. But the biggest loser in all of this is Schilling’s legacy. No matter where he goes, he’ll always be the big blowhard who couldn’t get along with teammates, had the ego to get into an industry he had no business being in, then ruined lives when he failed.