If We Long For Greatness, Why Do We Root Against It?

Et cetera, Trible To Your Bass — By on June 18, 2013 at 9:04 am

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Last week, I wrote an ad for a freelance sportswriter that included two simple questions. In order to write about sports, you must have a passion for them. The passion must go beyond average interest. If not, you will bore and tire of the job. You will become a slug or a hack – or both – and you will walk away.

The ad read:

“Do you remember the moments in sports that took your breath away? Are you excited when you see something happen in a game that you’ve never seen before?”

They’re simple questions at surface level. Days later and countless answers brought the understanding that greatness filled a portion of the things fans hold so dear.

Greatness is tough to describe. Great shots can be made by less-than-average players. Great finishes can occur in sparsely attended games. Great pitches can disappear in memory as quickly as the next one that catches too much of the plate.

It’s hard to hang your hat on greatness, as it’s usually fleeting. So, we turn to the players with the highest averages combined with success and late-game heroics. Those become great to us, as they should. We watch reels of footage full of Magic Johnson no-look passes and Barry Sanders jukes. We try to imagine what it was like to see Jackie Robinson steal home and Bobby Orr take the puck from end to end. Our presence is absent, and fans long to have been there with our own eyes and ears.

Game after game, season after season, year after year, fans watch. The games fly by quickly, and the stench of analysis fills the air. Bits of truth latch on to rumors and opinions to form slightly refined ideas. Somehow, we seek greatness from one game to the next. It isn’t enough for a player to play a great game, or two or 35. They simply must deliver that greatness when we want them to do it most. If not, it’s all for naught.

We mold stories of the great ones of what we see, read and hear. How many times must we go over the résumés before we acknowledge who belongs at the top of our invisible, man-made pyramid?

The crux of the enigma sits in the actions of what seems to be an increasing number of fans. If they watch for greatness, then why root so hard against it? Impervious to previous success or hopeful futures, many throw whatever stones they can grab towards the stars.

While media exposure is overkill for many, upon last review, it’s still selling. Major outlets will give you something to consume as long as you continue to consume it. That’s smart business. To continue to tune in despite disdain is foolish. If the haze of LeBron on ESPN is too much, then why blame him for that? One public relations nightmare – “The Decision” – is enough to throw him under the bus forever. Can we really hate a man for something so trivial? Sounds like sour grapes.

Maybe that’s what it is. The 99th percentile of former athletes is made up of those who weren’t the star player. Perhaps some type of unsettled friction of yesteryear’s experiences creates bitterness. It makes sense.

Great players often love to watch great players. At any level of competition, they face double teams and dramatic game plans that give them a better appreciation of what greatness takes. A night of Kobe Bryant could give way to understanding how to properly get to the hole against a zone trap.

A clean-up hitter at the local high school sees a pitcher throw around Miguel Cabrera three times. On the fourth try, Cabrera’s patience pays off and he takes an outside pitch the other way for a double. The four-hole batter now appreciates that. He too knows what it’s like to be pitched around. He learns what it takes to channel frustration into production.

It might be too much for us less-than-stellar athletes to appreciate. We don’t know what greatness takes. We’ve never had the tools to achieve it in sports.

There also exists the possibility that people simply want to hold on to what they believe in. That belief’s nestled next to Joe Montana’s late drives and Larry Bird’s jumper. It manifests itself in the nostalgia of what once was, a better time with better days and games.

Today’s players can’t reach that summit. The point of the pyramid is far too far for today’s mere athletes to grasp. Never mind the fact they are all bigger, stronger and faster than those of yesterday.

While we all watch on pins and needles to see great things happen – or great things to fail at the precipice – we must remember why we hold these things so dear. We keep them close to us because they are great. Greatness is something we all tune in to see.

Maybe we should actually root for it more often?

M. Trible

Sports are all I know. Writing came naturally. Sports writer by night & sports writer by night. Philosophy major who thinks the unexamined sport is not worth watching. Always for hire, never for sale. I believe that silence is the virtue of fools and I can't hear you.

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  • Kenny says:

    I think people, for reasons that are beyond me, are actually threatened by greatness, threatened by the influence that greatness inspires. In the scope of sports, the way someone runs, jumps, swings a bat, glides across the ice, throws a football, catches a football, moves around a boxing ring, etc. brings a multitude of feelings to an observer. An athlete may not ever say a word, but their actions inspire people to want to cheer them on…

    …but for some who claim they wish to see greatness, yet root against it, it may be a reflection of their own insecurities, their own wishes to be great at something, but they haven’t figured out how, or they aren’t satisfied with their gift, or they’re simply salty that their gift doesn’t inspire generations like an athlete’s does. So since their gift doesn’t inspire the masses (it shouldn’t matter that it doesn’t, yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who can exhibit a deep enough form of self-examination to admit this openly), they rail against greatness, even while claiming they want to be a witness to it.

  • B. Wolfe says:

    Because we only love underdog winners. That’s why championship games are clouded with a human interest story about somebody on the team who had a rough past or a tragic loss of some sort that we can identify with.

    A champion who is “the best” appears to have the perfect life which is often paralleled to the popular high school jock that majority see as cocky and a bully. We don’t want to identify with that guy. The Heat and Patriots catch a lot of that because their star players are easily identifiable with the elite guy that no one likes because he’s just so good. LeBron and Tom Brady were the guys who could get away with anything because of their looks and skills. We “others” find ways to hold them accountable by pointing out other “flaws”. You can’t make your light shine brighter by putting someone else’s light out.

  • point blank its the hater mentality…
    If im not successful in my piece of life then why should anyone else, and those who are ascribe to the greatness quotient have the largest amount of verbal assaults tossed at them. I could only imagine the venom that someone like MJ would have to deal with in today’s social climate.

    Another thing that has brought this type of disdain is the “every person gets a trophy” mentality. People who believe in that have a hard time seeing someone that much better than everyone else because it makes their attempt at equal treatment for all seem dumb. Yes you can give the entire little league a participation trophy but if there is a standout player amongst the group, parents/coaches/fans all know those plastic awards dont carry the same amount of meaning because little timmy ran circles around everyone else.

  • B. Wolfe says:

    @Q… You may have a point, but this type of stuff really wasn’t at the level it is now… Well not until social media made it that way. Growing up, I hated Michael Jordan because he would come and act an ass on my Knicks. It’s a part of the rivalry, but -despite the hate- we respect Jordan as one of the best to ever do it in his position. It was just about the game. No one cared about his personal life or what he’s buying. We just wanted to beat him and win a championship. Now with social media taking this evolution, we don’t just watch players. We are social gawkers and commentators that are given the keys to be all up in their business. So yeah, the hater mentality is on a whole new extreme due to this paradigm shift. Society just doesn’t hate the player on the court, they hate him off of it as well. It’s Pandora’s Box. Too much access and chatter surrounding an aspect of sports that’s really none of our business. Yet, society feels entitled to make it so.

    Now take that and add it to my previous comment about the “high school cool kid” aka “Mr. Popularity”. There is an element of insecurity that some see in the success of others that tempts this type of behavior. LeBron’s edge up. I get it, but it doesn’t stop there. We pry. We are in Wade’s personal life and if he’s cheating on Gabrielle Union or the baby mama drama with the ex-wife; or whatever. It’s crazy. It’s too much. Frankly, it’s unwarranted.

  • Eric says:

    The problem is people want to see greatness a certain way. They want a superstar to be relatable, make all the right decisions and quite frankly be perfect. The decision is as big of a deal because that is not how you are “suppose” to do it. LeBron was loved because he was the hometown kid, on the hometown team, now he has left the hometown team did it in a not so smart way and joined two other starts…took the easy way out. People long for and want greatness but people want it to look a certain way.

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