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Landon Donovan on the Fickleness of Praise

Former pro soccer star Landon Donavan was the standard-bearer of American soccer for more than a decade. When Donovan was growing up in California, he had a T-shirt that read: "Soccer is Life. The rest is just details." Recently Donovan admitted, "[Soccer] was my identity." But in the last stage of his career that identity started to crack. From 2012-2013 Donovan struggled with depression, watched his celebrity marriage disintegrate, and took a four-month break from soccer.

The pressure to perform and keep pleasing fans and coaches became too much. Donavan said:

[Fans, coaches, and the media] want us to live, breathe, eat, and die the sport. Every game they want you to go out and do everything you can to make the fans feel good, make the coach feel successful, make the owners successful … After the '06 World Cup … I realized, clearly, that it was a business. And that it was fickle. I was foolish enough to think that these people who were showing me so much love genuinely liked me .… [But after the '06 World Cup people said], "Now you had a bad World Cup. We don't think you're that cool anymore." That, for me, was a very eye-opening experience. And it made me very sad.

But then he added: "At the time, it was by far the hardest thing that ever happened to me in my life. But the beauty is it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it allowed me to wake up and see the world differently for the first time."

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