It was a thing of legend; a story passed down from father to son over the years. It was part of the lore that was Babe Ruth, one of baseball’s first stars, who set records with his power and will be forever remembered for a lifestyle as large and as grand as his swing. As legend has it, Ruth had visited a hospital in the morning before a game, and promised a young patient he’d hit a home run for him. Later that day, standing at home plate, it’s been said, Ruth pointed to the outfield wall before sending a pitch over it. He delivered on his promise to the sick child, and had beforehand announced his intentions to everyone in attendance that day.
The scene has been replayed and embellished in movies and television shows. It was an act of utter confidence and determination. It was also a bold statement of defiance from Ruth toward the pitcher. Although it was surely not the first instance, Ruth’s actions brought the act of taunting in the sports arena to the public’s attention. Taunting is now something we’ve seen replayed at Little League games, on high school football fields and on the courts of the NBA, to name just a few.
With the advent of ESPN, Fox Sports Net and other all-sports stations, air time has become increasingly filled with athletes who seem to have more interest in bringing attention to themselves than on the success of their team. The big hits, the home runs and the slamdunks are all repeated on the air time and again. But laying the blame at the media alone is not enough.
In addition to the broadcasters, it would also be appropriate to point the finger of blame at the parents who did not bring up their young athletes to be humble and modest on the playing field. Surely the coaches could be found to be at fault for allowing players to carry on in such a manner rather than benching them. But do we all share some responsibility for making sure our kids, from grade school to college age, grow up level-headed, with a clear picture of what tolerable and acceptable behavior is?
It seems that lately there is a growing burden put on parents and other adults to do their best to build kids’ self-esteem. Maybe we are trying to overcompensate for a lack of quality time. Perhaps we’re trying to instill confidence. We all want the best for our children, but it almost seems that as a group, what parents and other adults are doing best for our kids is getting in the way and muddying the message. Rather than being a vital and equal part of a team, we’re applauding their attempts to stand apart from and above teammates and earn a few seconds of fame on a highlight video.
This weekend’s Super Bowl is sure to bring plenty of opportunities for players who had not previously found themselves in the glare of the spotlight to shine. For the next five days they will have the nation’s attention as they prepare for and compete in the world’s most watched sporting event of the year. There will be big plays to be sure, and plenty of cameras to focus on the celebratory dances. As a fan, I think that’s great. As a citizen, and a parent, I’m not so sure.
There is nothing wrong with making memories, with standing out from the crowd or celebrating success. The art is to do so quietly, confidently and as if you expected to do it. Sharing accomplishments with others and making them a part of your victory will help to strengthen those memories. Quiet, self-assurance will earn respect and admiration every time. Rather than encouraging children to find new ways to draw attention to themselves, all of us ought to be teaching kids to respect their teammates and peers, and in doing so, respect themselves. We’ll have our first chance on Sunday.
Bill Crist is associate publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.