Is Humility Dead in American Sports?
Over the All-Star break the biggest news came not from the baseball field, nor did it have anything to do with what happens on the baseball field. Actually, too much baseball was the problem for the MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Manfred was on the Dan Patrick show and he spoke about Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball, and the “lifestyle choices” he has made. That used to be a euphemism for homosexuality or being a “playa” with women. But in this context, it was about not “selling himself”. His social media following or his endorsement deals or lack there of, was the topic of conversation.
As the interview shows, Manfred was neither unkind nor critical of Mike Trout personally. Manfred’s job is to build the game of baseball and he believes his star players are the best tool to build his brand in the same way the NFL grew under the tutelage of Peyton Manning on every commercial ever and Tom Brady in every classy commercial ever. Or like the NBA who have starts like LeBron James who cameo in movies and is on all the late-night talk shows or Stephan Curry who’s social media and commercial following is immense.
But his comments launched a hail storm of interesting perspectives and talking points about humility. From all accounts Mike Trout is an incredibly humble, giving guy. I think his response to this whole controversy displays his character perfectly, “I’m not a petty guy and would really encourage everyone to move forward. Everything is cool between the Commissioner and myself. End of story. I am ready to just play some baseball.”
Is this even real? A chance to go at every players nemesis the Commissioner of their league and he bats it down (pun intended).
He had a sure home run (too much?) of positive publicity and everyone defending him and he ends it right there?
Is there really a humble guy left in sports? Well of course there are. But is the current sports business a place that humble individuals can succeed?
There once was a time when most Americans went to church each week. As a country founded on a Judaeo-Christian faith the Bible was read and recited by the majority of the population. That book preaches humility from the first of the 10 Commandments until the death of Christ. To be humble is a hallmark of Judaeo-Christian beliefs.
We now live in a country more secular than ever before. Sure, we can blame institutions like the Education system for banning the Bible. Or we can look at ourselves and see how few individuals go to church every Sunday or how many of us have never read the Bible.
With this loss of a canon that teaches of virtues will a society still uphold virtue?
Humility is one of the hardest virtues to hold to. Yet it seems to be one we appreciate the most in individuals that have it. Having a “Down To Earth” mentality and giving credit where credit is due is still acknowledged today as good. But without a method of teaching how to apply and use humility do we really value it going forward?
Who is the greatest boxer of all time?
Do you say Muhammad Ali? Most American’s do.
Why do you say that?
The truth is you probably don’t know anything about his statistics or his win/loss ratio. You only remember that he told you he was the greatest.
He wasn’t nearly the Heavy Weight Champion of the World as long as Joe Louis. Rocky Marciano was undefeated on his career. But the press loved Ali, his over-confidence and his ability to go out of his way to make a headline.
Casual sports fans believe Muhammad Ali was the greatest, not because they have proof to back it up. But he sold himself on being the greatest.
Mike Trout is not that. And most parents want their kids to grow up to be Mike Trout and not Muhammad Ali. Or at least they used to.
I was scrolling through Instagram not long ago and came across a friend who had videoed her 7-year-old son make a three-pointer and bang his chest with his hands exactly like Steph Curry does when he makes a big 3.
I showed the video to my spouse and informed him if any of my children ever acted like that on the court I would walk down there and pull them from the game. There is no part of my last name that will be associated with that kind of self-promoting behavior.
But that’s what television has sold to our kids and to us. Television spends as much time replaying the reactions to different plays as they do highlights of the good play (yeah, I sat down during the NBA Conference Finals and counted). It is ingrained into us the self-aggrandizing nature that television producers have made sports. Even team sports.
So, is humility dead? No but it’s grasping for air.