True Colors: Athletes and Expression of Self
Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.
But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?
A lot of critics these days are saying no.
When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.
Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.
The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”
Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping. So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?
Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.
I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.
And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?
I think so.
Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”
When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.
On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.
Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.
These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.
After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”
Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.
Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?
In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.
If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.
A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.
If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.
What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.
Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.
Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?
Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.
All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.
As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.
In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.
Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.
In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.
There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.
The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.
If you’re excited, pump your fists.
If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.
If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.
If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.
It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.