In the span of only one season, six total episodes, HBO’s Eastbound & Down has helped create a sports icon so charismatic and so controversial he’s actually started to overshadow some of the real life sports antics that helped inspire the show in the first place.
The character of ex-pro pitcher Kenny Powers is undoubtedly born out of a combination of all the terrible traits and unfortunate choices sports celebrities have portrayed over the years. So much so, actually, some fans may forget that a lot of Kenny Powers’ bizarre actions aren’t actually that farfetched, but to some extent based on a true story. Or, perhaps, various true stories.
For those who may be unaccustomed to the types of personalities that inspired the great Kenny Powers, the following is a comparison study centered around the question: How do real life sport stars stack up against the star of Eastbound & Down?
Case study 1: Steroid use
Within the mythology of EB&D, Powers has been linked to rumours of steroid use at various stages of his waning career. Even in an attempt to drum up some interest around his name and make a pro-league comeback, Powers decides to cut corners training and immediately turns to shooting up steroids. Continuing his steroid use throughout the first season of the show, Powers proceeds to barely work out or exercise at all.
For parallels in the sporting world, this first one is pretty easy. Just last year mega-star homerun hitter Mark McGwire publically admitted to using steroids off and on during his baseball career. All-star pitcher Roger Clemens is currently embroiled in charges of perjury after having allegedly lied about steroid use to U.S. Congress. Other sports that have endured serious steroid scandals include cycling, track and field, tennis and mixed martial arts.
Case study 2: Calling out the home team
When Kenny Powers was still at the top of his game, he used every opportunity to publically criticize his teammates, his coaching staff and just about every fan that would come see him play. He used a press conference to announce he was leaving his first pro team, saying, “I’m sick and tired of carrying all the weight. The coaches and owners not giving me the shit I need to win. Atlanta, you’re fucking out. Kenny Powers is now a free agent.” Powers then shuffled his way through the league, degenerating in talent while spouting off just about every racial and prejudice slur the United States has to offer.
Here, Powers had to have been influenced by the actions of baseball villain and relief pitcher John Rocker. In his pro career, Rocker made insensitive comments about various minorities, speaking specifically about the fans in New York. During an interview with Sports Illustrated that was conducted on a drive to a speaking engagement, Rocker reportedly spit on a Georgia toll machine and mocked Asian women repeatedly. In the latter half of his career, Rocker could barely play an inning without being booed off the pitcher’s mound.
The incessant need to burn bridges, though, may be inspired more from NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens than any baseball player. During his time with the Philadelphia Eagles, Owens publicly referred to the organization as classless and then stated that the Eagles would have a much better record with a different quarterback.
Case study 3: Writing an autobiography
“Just like in life, all of my successes depend on me. I’m the man who has the ball; I’m the man who can throw it faster than fuck, so that is why I am better than everyone in the world,” says an overconfident Powers in his audio book Your’re Fucking Out, I’m Fucking In.
The majority of Powers’ book, as narrated throughout the series, revolves around being better than other people, sexual conquests and how awesome it is to be a rich sports star.
Just throw a stone in a major bookstore and you’re likely to hit a dearth of sports autobiographies. From Dennis Rodman’s Bad as I Want to Be to Bo Jackson’s Bo Knows Bo, if you are a big enough sports star eventually you will be given a book deal. A lot of these autobiographies deal heavily with controversial topics but a few go above and beyond. Jose Canseco’s Juiced and Theoren Fleury’s Playing with Fire, in particular, are known for their edgy, adult only material.
Case study 4: Bankruptcy
After no professional team would have him, Powers was forced to travel back to his hometown and move in with his brother’s family. Apart from a pile of his own baseball merchandise, the only material possessions Powers had left were a beat down truck and a leopard print jet ski. Refusing to sell the jet ski, Powers took a job as a temporary phys-ed teacher at the local high school.
Evander Holyfield, Bjorn Borg, Marion Jones, Scottie Pippen, Mike Tyson and Darren McCarty are only a handful of the high profile athletes who’ve been dangerously close to declaring bankruptcy in the final stages of their careers. Some blame bad business investments while others freely admit to squandering it in their youth. Mike Tyson, who earned approximately $300–400 million over the span of his career, reportedly let his bank balance fall as low as $700 after his retirement from boxing.
The second season of Eastbound & Down begins airing September 26, on HBO Canada.