I’m constantly thrust back into my personal dilemma over whether professional athletes, mainly NFL, are celebrating too much when they score. When I view the game as a fan of a team, or a specific player, that nagging turmoil isn’t there, I simply rejoice along – it’s hard to not get wrapped up in the moment, which is the problem for the athletes as well, and after all, isn’t that the point? To get wrapped up in the moment. That’s why we come to the stadium in the first place.
But there’s a problem. Over the past several years, football games have started to appear more like dance contests rather than a precarious tussle between two finely-tuned squads of professional athletes. Some players dance, some players dunk the ball over the goal post, some players point towards the heavens and bellow, some simply puff-up like mating birds-of-paradise and make their way in a circular motion on the field. But when players are even beginning to start their celebrations before getting across the goal line, we have a problem (See Danny Trevathan’s dropped touchdown). We have forgotten the game, and veered into the dangerous place where pastime crosses over into me-time. When a premature celebration causes a missed score, the whole system falls apart, and the glaring weakness of player immaturity is put on display.
It’s happening in MLB too, but the ego tends to take a different shape with baseball players. When Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez put his on display in a game against the Braves in September, it showed how quickly a game can go from wholesome to downright unsavory in a matter of pitches. Fernandez gave up a few hard hit balls, and seemed to beg for Braves hitters to lip at him, and when Fernandez himself hit a home run later in the game, he set his unwarranted anger free by doing the ole’ ‘admire your own home run’ routine. Pure selfishness that has no place in the game, and pure bad influence on younger generations of ballplayers. And, I’m sorry, but the excuse that Fernandez is young doesn’t work for me. Professional athletes of all ages should be expected to respect every aspect of the game.
Celebrating excessively and being a downright jerk are different things, but they go hand and hand. They stem from the same lack of self-control that it’s up to the players and to some degree the coaches to reign in.
If I could say one thing (or several) to all professional athletes, it would be something like this: Here’s why I don’t like it when you celebrate: you’re being paid to do that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to enter into the flimsy debate of whether athletes are paid too much, but the reality is that you’re being paid an exorbitant amount of salary to do that very thing, get a touchdown, hit a home run. When I finish grading papers, or complete a song for a job, I don’t slam my computer keyboard down, or smash my guitar. I go about getting prepared for the next job. The fans do a good job celebrating by themselves, they don’t need you to do a dance or stare at the pitcher. Let the dance be your entry into the end zone, your perfected swing. Take a cue from Barry Sanders and stop wasting your energy. Drop the ball and walk to the next place you’re supposed to be. Take a cue from Cal Ripken Jr., and just do your job.
When you’re given a chance to do more than play the game, and become a role model for millions of kids, don’t take it lightly. Be one of the many before you who have inspired not only supreme athleticism but high moral character. Be one of the players who showed the kids that there is no “I” in team.
Those are the players whose legacies won’t be tainted with the remembrance that, in a lot of ways, they were doing it for themselves.