Many people think of the sports world as an industry filled to the brim with egotism, but true athletes know that discipline and sportsmanship are among the top qualities for any real professional. Sports should be about respect for the game. On the court, the field, the diamond, the ice, or wherever you may choose to play, there is no “king” in team.
We’re only three months into the year, and already this concept has been put to the test. Of course, it gets put to the test pretty much every year. Whether it’s an athlete who refuses to apologize for unsportsmanlike behavior against a player on an opposing team or simply an athlete who decides to showboat after making a successful touchdown or home run (also known as “doing their job”), scarcely a week goes by that one player or another doesn’t give the media something to complain about. That’s why Joe Maddon had to tell the Cubs recently not to “pimp” their homers, and that’s why WR Doug Baldwin had to make a ridiculous apology back in February for pretending to poop out a ball during the Super Bowl.
Luckily, there are some players out there who actually possess a modicum of respect for the game they get paid millions of dollars to play. Players who might renew fans’ sense of hope that ego might be put aside in favor of sportsmanship and basic human dignity. Below are three of the nicest guys in sports right now, followed by other athletes who might stand to learn from their examples.
Saints fans are still pretty mad about their favorite tight end getting traded off the team. He was one of the leading scorers on the team last year, and even football fans who don’t particularly care for New Orleans are scratching their heads on why the heck he was traded to the Seahawks for center Max Unger, who despite his talents has not played for two seasons due to injuries. It’s such a bone-headed move that even a child could see it.
In fact, a child did see it. “It’s just not smart of them to let Jimmy Graham [go] over there.” Those were the succinctly profound words of Lexia Woods, a seven-year-old Saints fan who made big waves on the internet this past week when she starred in a video about the trade. After questioning the Saints’ decision-making skills, she broke down crying over the loss of her favorite player. Lexia’s father is currently stationed in Kuwait, so Graham’s frequent support for the American military was more than enough to win over Lexia and her mother. His athletic prowess didn’t hurt, either.
It was startling how many sports fans took to the internet to attack seven-year-old Lexia, accusing her of using onions to fake her tears (which, to be fair, is a stark possibility). Some insulted the mother, stating that she was simply exploiting her daughter for selfish gain. An unfortunate number of fans even insulted Lexia herself, calling her names and using language that most real men wouldn’t use to describe their most hated ex-wife. At this point, we must stress yet again that this girl is seven freaking years old.
Jimmy Graham, however, appeared to find the video to be genuine. He replied to it on Facebook, inviting his young fan to come and see him play his first game in Seattle at the start of the season. He then called her on ESPN just this week, stating his intention to bring her entire family to Seattle to watch him play. While it was a bit awkward to watch a girl in a Saints t-shirt getting invited to a Seahawks game, it was still a classy move on Graham’s part. He also respected the trade system, saying nothing good or bad about either team or the logic behind trading him. He simply concluded by stating: “That was one of the biggest moments of my life, and you made it that much more special.”
Who Could Learn From Him?
Marshawn Lynch. There are too many examples of Lynch’s ego to name them all, but this year alone has seen quite a few make headlines. First there was Lynch spending an entire Media Day before the Super Bowl responding to every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” Well, not an entire day…he left after five minutes. Then, about a month later, he applied for a trademark on the phrase. So not only did he save $50,000 while still blowing off his responsibilities to the media, but now he wants to use that fact to sell merchandise.
Not only that, but a video surfaced at the beginning of March in which Lynch comments on the highly controversial inside slant called by the Seahawks at the end of the Super Bowl. There’s a strange conspiracy theory circulating right now that the Seahawks didn’t give the ball to Lynch solely because they didn’t want him to become the game’s MVP. In the video, Lynch says that giving him the ball would have made him “the face of the nation.” With a potential bit of sarcasm, he stated: “Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get the ball. I mean, you know, it cost us the Super Bowl.” Hopefully new teammate Jimmy Graham will teach Lynch a little something about grace and decency.
Christian Laettner may have played for the Timberwolves, Hawks, Pistons and the Heat, but many remember him for his college basketball career. Right after this year’s Selection Sunday concluded and the upcoming bracket for March Madness was announced, EPSN aired a retrospective on former Duke University center and power forward. The documentary was entitled “I Hate Christian Laettner.”
This title was especially fitting for fans of the Kentucky Wildcats circa 1992. Laettner won the game for the Duke Blue Devils in the last second, making a jump shot that put his team ahead by one point. It became one of the most famous shots in the history of the sport itself, and as a result there is usually little talk of Laettner’s NBA career. Most people hate him for his basketball successes.
Of course, some people hate him for his sportsmanship, and he sought to rectify that during the premiere of his documentary. While live tweeting the show, Laettner made a random phone call to a fan and went out of his way to compliment other Twitter-users who commented on the documentary. He also made an apology to former Wildcat Aminu Timberlake for an instance during the game in which he put his foot down on Timberlake’s chest. Laettner said that while some might consider the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game a “perfect game,” he believes he made a mistake. He has stated the action to be a mistake in the past, but this is his first on-the-record apology aimed directly at Timberlake. It may have taken twenty-three years, but it was still an honorable move on Laettner’s part.
Laettner had the sort of college career that would have easily allowed him to rest on his laurels if he chose to do so. During his time at Duke, his team made it to the Final Four in the Division I championship each of four years in a row. He was a part of the Dream Team during the 1992 Olympics, the only college player selected to play with the likes of basketball legends such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Larry Bird (just to name a few). He even beat one other college player for his spot on the Dream Team, a little-known player you might have heard about: Shaquille O’Neal. In short, Laettner didn’t have to apologize to anyone in order to enjoy a successful career. He did it because he felt like he should, and that’s all that really matters.
Who Could Learn From Him?
Ndamukong Suh. Everyone’s talking about the NFL star’s new $114 million contact with the Miami Dolphins. He basically set out to become one of the highest-paid players in the league, a feat that he could certainly be said to have achieved now that he’s making more money than most quarterbacks. But the decision was ultimately left to Suh’s agent, and his agent has little motivation aside from trying to get as much money as possible. So really, any greed that might have been present in the deal simply isn’t that surprising.
So forget about the greed. Instead, focus on the fact that many consider Suh to be the dirtiest player in football right now. While he isn’t likely to take any cues from a former college basketball star, he really should. Back in 2011, Suh stomped on the arm of Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. The closest he came to an apology was saying he was sorry for “allowing the refs…to take me out of this game.” He then did practically the exact same thing to another Packer, QB Aaron Rodgers, in 2014. This time he didn’t even fake an apology, simply stating that his feet were numb. If we’re lucky, he might follow Laettner’s example and apologize to either Dietrich-Smith or Rodgers sometime between 2034 and 2037.
Corey Black and Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence, right fielder for the San Francisco Giants, is going to be out of the game for up to two months after Cubs relief pitcher Corey Black accidentally pegged him with the ball and broke his forearm earlier this month. Black isn’t exactly an old pro, and his pitch went slightly off course, striking Pence not too far above the wrist. Pence immediately fell to the ground in pain, having to recover for a moment before he could exit the field.
Black’s Twitter account just about exploded from the number of fiery comments that got sent his way. Some who understood that the pitch was an accident simply blasted the pitcher for incompetence. Others, however, pretty much accused him of intentionally breaking Pence’s arm. There were even threats of violence as fans threatened to hunt Black down and pay him back for his mistake.
Of course, the number of threatening and insulting comments says nothing of sports fans as a whole. Unfortunately, it just happens to be some of the most toxic who are also the loudest. So it is best that Black did not give into the heat of the moment and respond to the angry comments he was receiving. He did not even get wrapped up in ego and try to defend himself by pointing out to such fans that the pitch was a mistake. Instead, he simply expressed remorse for what happened to Pence and wished him a fast recovery.
Pence was able to put his ego aside as well. Sure, he could have been mad that his arm was broken or that he was out of the game for at least six weeks. But he states that he’s been in games where people get hit on purpose, and he tends to find that much more upsetting. As far as Black is concerned, he recognizes that the pitch didn’t really work out according to his plans either. Pence told the press that these things happen, and that it tends to suck for both players involved. He also thanked Black, via Twitter, for his concern. He concluded by telling Black that it’s simply part of the game and that he shouldn’t slow down because of it.
Who Could Learn From Them?
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Shaq may be retired now, but it’s still difficult to forget his rivalry with Kobe Bryant. The major thing that separates Shaq and Bryant from Corey Black and Hunter Pence is that they were actually on the same team. Also notable is the fact that their rivalry didn’t stem from injury, but rather from sheer ego. Depending on which Lakers fan you asked, you’d probably hear that either one of them was the best player on the team. But according to Bryant, their eight years on the team together would have gone better if Shaq had simply worked harder.
Neither of the two was particularly dignified when speaking about their rivalry, but Bryant really took the cake. Even after Shaq’s retirement, Bryant continued bashing him in the press in 2014, calling him lazy and accusing him of skating through his games. Which is funny, since Bryant’s the kind of big name with enough money to skate through sexual assault charges. But apparently being gifted with massive size and natural basketball abilities is the far greater crime. While Black and Pence were able to settle any potential differences before they arose, Bryant continued to go after a player who had already left the game. To call Bryant’s egotism disgraceful would not even begin to cut it.