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Juxtaposition

 Intellectuals often complain about the double standard athletes are granted in society. Professional players lose their distinction as citizens, American Royalty. However, many never stop to consider the treacherous position this circumstance drops our sports stars into. An individual can become easily entrapped in celebrity, and those who maintain their character in our cutthroat culture deserve to be commended for their courage, and conviction.  This player is vicious. Ruthlessly opportunistic, cold blooded, a real assassin. Defeat is an intolerable failure, unacceptable, an insult to his unrelenting effort.  

This person is a class act. Keeps his personal life purposefully out of the spotlight. Avoids controversy as if it were a plague, a stain on his persona.  

This shortstop is graceless.  He’s a step slow up the middle, his throws to first base often inaccurate.

This gold glove recipient earned his accolades, through ceaseless work, in the name of constantly improving his game. He has absorbed enough criticism to balance the platitudes, devouring the insults, mere grounders bounding into a waiting, steady glove.

This celebrity is astounding. The dream girls arrive on an assembly line, from starlets to singers to beauty pageant winners. He somehow glides through the unyielding glare, maintaining his humanity, avoiding being sealed as a product, to be bought and sold among the masses he entertains.    

 This man’s name is Derek Jeter.

We know him well.  

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 Derek Jeter knows how to play the game. If his answers sound stale, you’ve been paying attention.

 We want our stars to be something we aren’t. Eventually, many of them become caricatures, bowing in deference to their impossible fame.

We practically beg.

Be flamboyant. Be outrageous. Be courageous. Be a hero, be a villain, be anything but normal.

After all, according to websites such as Deadspin, athletes are nothing more than entertainers, placed on the same societal pedestal as movie stars, to be lauded or ridiculed with equal emotional detachment.

You’re with me, apathy.       

 Take T.O. The most negative attributes of his personality are the precise traits that have formed his success on the football field. Owens needs his arrogance. Without it, he wouldn’t be able to function properly on Sundays. What inhabits a player on game day should not inhibit him or her as a person.

The comprehension of this notion becomes a relative impossibility for many strong willed athletes. The persona takes over their personality. Some reckless Wide Receivers, risking their careers upon every crossing pattern, maintain their caviler attitude outside the confines of the white lines, triggering incidents of civil strife. Instead of walking away, they welcome the challenge provided by conflict.

Life becomes just another game to play, a competition to conquer.    

 You ask an ace to summon his fortitude in dominating the opposition.

Now you ask him to walk away from a taunting fan at the bar. You ask him to relinquish his pride.  

Where is the line drawn?

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 The 1993 motion picture entitled ” The Program” wasn’t exactly a critical hit, but it is a favorite of mine. The film details the struggles of several college football players, of differing ages and races, attempting to survive in the cold world outside competition, while maintaining the violent edge their game undeniably requires. Two tailbacks, in a bitter fight for the number one slot on the depth chart, eventually extend their competition off the field for a girl, fueling the fire of their hatred, and ultimately, their position battle. A star linebacker, failing at a reality outside of football, chooses to submerge himself in the game, forgoing his education, waging an all out pursuit for the riches awaiting him in the NFL. He suffers a career ending injury at the end of the season, rendering his future null and void.

 The most compelling example in “The Program” of an athlete exhibiting a dangerous tendency to allow his on field persona to effect his actions off it lies with star quarterback Joe Kane, a Heisman candidate rapidly becoming a powder keg. What makes Kane such a force on the field, what makes him such a trusted leader and model athlete, also causes his free fall as a person. His embrace of risk combined with a constant fear of failure leads to alcoholism.  He spirals low enough to land in rehab, curtailing his Heisman drive, and almost ruining his team’s Bowl chances.

 By the end of the movie, Kane has successfully rehabilitated himself. He has reconciled the irreversible truth of his father’s own alcoholism, narrowly avoiding self-destruction.

 Character becomes a defining trait of the players forming “The Program.” Some change for the better, while others fall further astray, all while the head coach, played perfectly by James Caan, surveys it all with an impassive, stupefied sadness.

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I believe Derek Jeter best reflects how an athlete should manage his competitive persona and his off the field personality.

I use Jeter as an example for many specific reasons. The success he experienced in the early portion of his career could have easily led his character awry. And his style of play, brutally opportunistic, Gordon Gecko in spikes, could have forged a frigid, vain personality.

 At this juncture, in 2007, Jeter has maintained his status as an excellent role model to the youth of this country, something desperately needed in these severely cynical times, when entire websites are dedicated in the pursuit of hate. Apparently, we hate broadcasters, we hate networks, and yes, we hate many athletes. As Bill Simmons succinctly put it in a recent column, sports nation has become a hater nation, and quite honestly, it’s getting nauseating.

The great thing about Jeter is that both the praise he garners and criticism he incurs is always parallel to his performance on the field.

That is his legacy.

 Sure, one is absolutely free to believe Jeter is overrated. You can knock his decidedly average range at shortstop, or mock him as a media creation of overly romantic New York sportswriters.

 One thing, however, is certain.

The most polarizing player in Major League baseball has made us all proud, for his class and dignity, if nothing else.

And there is hope, of course, because he isn’t alone.

It’s time we accentuate the positive, instead of continuing to wallow in stagnating negativity.  

– Matt Waters

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

2 replies on “Juxtaposition”

Jeter What makes him special is that he has “sense of the moment”.  I’m an A’s fan who hated him for making that flip play which essentially cost us a World Series, but you have to admire that Jeter makes special plays like that.  He’s in a rarefied air right now in sports with guys like Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant.  Guys that really save their best for when their team needs it.

Gotta wonder what’s up with the Yankees right now.  I cannot believe they are going into spring training with their rotation being Wang, Pettite, Mussina, Pavano and Igawa.  They are really putting a lot of eggs into Roger Clemens and maybe Phillip Hughes baskets.

I’d worry more About the back end of the rotation if the Yankees didn’t have so many options in the minor leagues. If Pavano doesn’t pan out or Igawa stinks, they could throw Rasner or Karstens into the mix for the short term, or Hughes and Sanchez in the long haul. I think Cashman did a great job this off season, the only thing that bothers me is that the bench is going to suck reallly bad, unless Josh Phelps finally figures it out.  

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