Are ego and bravado good or bad for sports
On Saturday night at Kansas Speedway a terrifying incident occurred when Joey Logano broke a brake rotor and hit Danica Patrick, who crashed into the wall. Aric Almirola, who drove into some oil and couldn't slow down, rammed into them both, resulting in a fiery crash. Logano and Patrick were able to walk away, but Almirola had to be cut from the car and was eventually airlifted to hospital and diagnosed with a broken back. After the crash, Joey Logano was interviewed, apologized for the incident and stated his concern fort he welfare of Almirola. Danica, on the other hand, when interviewed by Jamie Little went into a tirade of how she has such bad luck, how everything happens to her and how she can't catch a break.
"I feel absolutely horrible," Danica said. "I just don't understand why so much bad luck happens."
Many people who watched the interview were furious with her apparent lack of empathy for Almirola and her self-centered comments about how unlucky she was, despite walking away relatively unscathed. Others said her comments just reflected frustration with a bad season. At the end of the interview Danica did say she hoped Almirola was ok, but it didn't stop the backlash. Many NASCAR fans took to Twitter and lambasted her:
The following are just a few Twitter posts following her interview:
- "Danica Patrick just gave the most immature, self-absorbed interview. Almirola left on a stretcher, but it's all about Danica's problems."
- "Danica Patrick has been re-evaluated by the infield care center and has been admitted to sensitivity training. #classless #PrayforAric"
" - You don't have bad luck Danica. You just can't drive and have no empathy."
After reading those comments it had me thinking about all of today's athletes and wondering if their self-centered attitudes were actually hurting sports. I decided to discuss this with a colleague who writes about sports and he suggested that fiery attitudes and egos were often good for sports in that it spurs on a desire to achieve more, but athletes can cross the line. My colleague suggested that Danica's reaction wasn't that bad since NASCAR is an individual sport and like boxing, Olympic sports, golf or tennis, it's not an issue when athletes look out for themselves. But it does cross the boundaries with team sports since selfishness and individual focus often hurts the rest of the team.
As examples, whenever Lebron James is interviewed lately it seems he is always talking about "me" or "I" forgetting that there is no "I" in team. In fact, he even refers to the Cavaliers as his team. People forgive King James because he is the best player in the league, but often times even average players can go on a tangent that affects the team. Kobe Bryant was always espousing his own virtues at the end of his career, despite his lackluster play and the Lakers were one of the worst teams in the league. And the NFL is chalk full of athletes who only care about themselves.
Colin Kaepernick's choice to sit out the National Anthem in protest against the police demonstrated a total lack of empathy for servicemen, for the team and for his country. Kaepernick had every right to state his anger at what he believed was police brutality against black people but there was a better time and place to show it. And most unforgiving about it was that this grandstanding seemed to affect his play and that of the 49ers.
Similarly, Marshawn Lynch appearing at a post game interview, saying nothing and announcing he was only there so he wouldn't get fined demonstrated total self centeredness, which of course led to his eventually leaving the team as they weren't prepared to put up with his one-sided shenanigans.
And who can forget baseball? It seems lately that players are getting ejected daily, all for payback. It seemed to start with the Texas Rangers taking offense to Jose Bautista's bat flip in the AL East championship game in 2015, which led to Rougned Odor punching Bautista in a game the following year. Bautista then took exception and slid hard into Odor in a later game trying to injure him and the saga continued. And last month Phillies' manager Pete Mackanin was ejected after Edubray Ramos threw at the head of Asdrubal Cabrera in apparent retaliation for Cabrera's bat flip in the 2016 Championship game.
Again, these antics affect the entire team, not just the players themselves. Plus ,talk to anyone in Europe and they'll tell you there are no players more self-centered than soccer superstars, who are always looking out for themselves at the peril of teammates.
So who is to blame for all of this?
We concluded that often it is the leagues as much as the players, as often leagues condone it. Michael Vick ran dog fighting rings and after sitting out a few years was welcomed back by the Philadelphia Eagles and was practically hailed as a hero by fans when he had a decent year for the team. Sure, he served a sentence but many suggest that had he suffered a lifelong suspension. It would have sent a better message. Ray Rice, who was caught beating his girlfriend in an elevator is training again for a return. And Adrian Peterson who beat his own son returned to the Vikings and just signed an incentive laced deal with the New Orleans Saints that could pay him up to $12.5 million per year.
My colleague and I also acknowledged that this "all about me" attitude extends to gamblers as well. Phil Ivey has a net worth over $100 million yet wanted more and cheated Atlantic City casinos by edge sorting and now has to pay back $14 million. Similarly, DraftKings employees were revealed by ESPN to have won $6 million playing at rival FanDuel, apparently often using information they acquired from their own site and this revelation led to the eventual crackdown on daily fantasy sports. Had they simply left well enough alone and relished the millions they were making on the product, it's likely DFS would be legal and profitable throughout the U.S. now. But that self-centered decision to try and win more by skirting the rules (which some deemed to be insider trading), not only cost them, but cost DFS players who have seen payouts drop substantially since and leagues who are not generating as much revenue from a revenue sharing deal with the DFS companies.
And, as for empathy, one only needs to go to a sportsbook and watch gamblers cheer when a star player from the side they didn't bet on gets injured to realize that the only thing that matters is their pocketbook. And possibly the ultimate act of arrogance was by poker player Erik Lindgren who owed millions to various people after Black Friday and checked into a problem gambling program. But rather than accepting the rules of 12 step programs, admitting that he has no control over his gambling and giving up gambling for good, Lindgren instead told Bluff Magazine that his rehab focused on becoming a better gambler. It obviously didn't work as Lindgren divorced his wife subsequently and according to Howard Lederer never paid back his debts.
That said, the question still arises as to whether ego is good or bad for sports in general.
Muhammad Ali was loved because of his arrogance and when it came to tooting his own horn there was no one more vocal than Michael Jordan and fans loved him for it. After discussing it more with my colleague we concluded that there is nothing wrong with ego and self importance provided that ego doesn't harm teammates and more importantly that they show concern and sportsmanship in other areas.
Danica's apparent frustration was likely misinterpreted as she has always been empathetic to others in the past. When Dan Wheldon was killed in an Indy race in Las Vegas, Danica was on camera sobbing and expressing true concern and sorrow for his family. She was also one of the first to be there for the family. And for the most part players do show empathy and concern for competitors who suffer. Players like Lyle Alzado who admitted to trying to hurt others during his time with the Raiders are few and far between.
But players can also help the sports and gain some respect with fans by just being more respectful. I recall in my younger days hanging out by the ballpark or hockey arena after games waiting for autographs and players would almost always take time to not only sign a ball or card but would talk to the fans and live up to their billing as role models. But nowadays players tend to slip out the back to avoid signing autographs, unless absolutely necessary and striking up a conversation with fans is just unheard of any more. Players will argue they are entitled to personal space, but they have to accept that without fans and the media, they could never be in the position and earning the paychecks they are.
So whether self centeredness is good or bad for athletes will always be a debatable topic. But sportsmanship and empathy is paramount and expected by everyone.