Narcissist or Athlete


Commercials are interesting, at least for me. I view them as reflectors of our culture and not as attempts pushing me toward a product or make. A recent commercial for a brand of potato chip is a good example of mirroring us.

A mother stands in her kitchen eating from a bag of popular potato chips. A large, cloth carrier is next to her on the counter. A girl about six years of age bounces into the kitchen, fully dressed for a soccer game. (Since when where cleats allowed to be worn in the house?). The child cheerfully announces that the coach is letting her play forward, and she tells her mother that if she scores a goal, she has her “happy dance” all planned. She then performs the dance, and her mother repeats it, both mother and daughter smiling all the time. The girl also tells her  mother that she is to bring the team snack, but the mother stops worrying when she looks into the large carrier which happens to be holding bags and bags of chips. All is well because the mother has purchased the correct chips, the child player is prepared with a celebratory dance, and the commercial ends with a shot of the young player eating from a bag of the right chips. Great! But no, all is not well in my view, even with THE chips.

Many years ago, I heard a story of a head coach in the NFL studying a game film with his  players. When a receiver on the opposing team made a catch, he yelled at his defensive back, “You’re paid $80,000 to keep him from doing that.” The back responded, “But he’s paid $200,000 to do it.”

I like that story because as a high school coach, I used it to remind my players not to show emotion after a win or loss. I wanted them to act like the twins who wrestle at the Naval Academy or the brothers who wrestled for Clarke County in Virginia. Watching any of them walk off the mat, you would not know whether a win or loss had happened, even after multiple state championships or matches won at such events as Dapper Dan. As competitors, I would tell my runners or wrestlers or jumpers, we are, in a way, paid, and we act professionally. We never want our competitors to  know how we feel—win or lose. Celebrate later, with family and friends, not spectators. Never, I repeated often, let your opponent know how good winning or how bad losing means. Be analytical like the defensive back of the NFL.

Sadly, the celebrations by overly paid athletes have morphed into performances of narcissism. For me there is too much strutting and puffing and gloating in professional sports that has seeped, like a sewage, down all the way to a six-year-old soccer player who has a dance planned if she scores a goal. “Yea, look at me world. I am great. I scored a goal,” her wished-for dance says.

But is catching, kicking, hitting, or shooting a ball all that important when compared to other accomplishments of life?  Where does that skill with a ball mesh with the other, more important ones necessary for a life of quality?  One would think that the self-serving jubilations of some athletes, from the child clubs to adult professionals , proclaims their identities. Truly, even if a student wins four state championships, or sets a record in a race, what does that count for in the longer race we all share?

It seems to me that the value in a record or championship is only as good as we use it to sharpen our skills for living each day: to eat its bread, thankful for its blessings, and its opportunities.

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