Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Limits of Showmanship

As a former high-school and collegiate athlete prone to wearing his heart on his sleeve, I am a big fan of flair in sports. If you can throw down a nasty two-handed dunk as opposed to laying the ball up, I’m all for it. If high-stepping won’t get you tackled from behind as you gallop into the end-zone, by all means, do it. If you have a 99-mph fastball in your repertoire, feel free to stare down Prince Fielder before you strike him out. In fact, I have a strong aversion to athletes who are overly-fundamental--denying fans the spectacle: the San Antonio Spurs and the Duncan Robot are unwatchable; I cannot buy into the Peyton Manning vanilla precision offense; and, base-hit baseball minus the occasional long ball is just plain bland.

Still, if there is one thing I hated amongst former teammates above all else was when the showmanship detracts from the players overall athletic performance. If the 360ยบ dunk hits back iron, if Leon Lett allows himself to be stripped in the Super Bowl, if excessive ritual in the batter’s box leads to your striking out—then, flair no longer adds to the spectacle of sport. Rather, one player’s romanticized ESPN highlight ends up not only making a fool of him, individually, but hurts the entire team. Or, he simply hurts himself. Here is a prime example from Mozambique soccer: