piz

"Selfish" Sports Stars

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Spent most of the day watching football, and saw nearly all of the fantastic Dallas/Washington game. At one point in that game, Terrell Owens caught a short touchdown pass, then did one of his unique end zone celebrations: he used the ball as a pillow and pretended to take a nap (he had been criticized this week for sleeping during a team meeting). The NFL has an "excessive celebration" penalty, and Owens was flagged for his, costing Dalls 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.

In several of the halftime/postgame commentaries I watched, Owens was repeatedly called "selfish" for his behavior. It's a criticism that's been leveled at him many times in his career. I think he deserves much of what's been said about him being a detriment to his team, despite his obvious on-field talent, but as is so often the case this is a misapplication of the word "selfish."

In my day I was quite an athlete. For example, I was easily the best player on my basketball teams: almost always leading in points, rebounds, and/or assists (I was especially proud of my defensive play). Yet I was universally called the most "unselfish" player on the team. At the time, long, long before I found Objectivism and grasped the correct meaning of "selfish," I agreed with that assessment. Now, however, I realize that I was far and away the most selfish player on those teams, because my overarching goal was winning games. That's what I wanted more than anything else, and I would always do whatever would best further that end.

Just once, I'd like to hear a professional athlete who's known as "unselfish" reject that term and point out that he's there to achieve his own, personal goals. It might help people realize what rational self-interest really means.

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Just once, I'd like to hear a professional athlete who's known as "unselfish" reject that term and point out that he's there to achieve his own, personal goals. It might help people realize what rational self-interest really means.

I can't find the reference now, but I did have a CyberNet item about a dispute between Dan Rusanowsky who does the play-by-play for the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey team and his color man. When the color man commended a player for making a sacrifice on the play, Rusanowsky gave him a mini-lecture on what self-interest and sacrifice really mean -- right on the air.

Dan, the Radio Voice of the Sharks, is an Objectivist.

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Piz, I too cringe when I or a teammate is called "unselfish" for passing the ball or "selfish" for taking a shot when it should have been passed.

But interestingly, the coach/trainer (its a complicated situation- he's not officially head coach... but he is) of my soccer team has insinuated that the best player is selfish, because (paraphrasing) "the best player plays to win- not for the good of the team, but because he wants to win."

Also, I've never heard him say anybody was selfish as in insult- only as a compliment.

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In a team sport, the guy who hogs the ball to the detriment of his team's victory is often quickly and rightly condemned for it. Maybe he wants to show off. Maybe he wants to pad his stats. Either way, the issue isn't selflessness or selfishness; it is a misfocus, a misprioritization of his goals: he puts something else above winning the game. That is what he should be condmemned for.

It's a lot easier, though, to say "don't be selfish" or "there's no 'I' in team" or another bromide than it is to explain the issue. Does someone have a witty retort to these bromides that would succinctly illuminate the correct issue? I don't have one but it would be nice. (It could also be used in other areas besides sports, such as corporate meetings.)

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In a team sport, the guy who hogs the ball to the detriment of his team's victory is often quickly and rightly condemned for it. Maybe he wants to show off. Maybe he wants to pad his stats. Either way, the issue isn't selflessness or selfishness; it is a misfocus, a misprioritization of his goals: he puts something else above winning the game. That is what he should be condmemned for.

It's a lot easier, though, to say "don't be selfish" or "there's no 'I' in team" or another bromide than it is to explain the issue. Does someone have a witty retort to these bromides that would succinctly illuminate the correct issue? I don't have one but it would be nice. (It could also be used in other areas besides sports, such as corporate meetings.)

There's no "I" in "team," but there is in both "win" and "victory."

My own invention: "Team" spelled sideways is "meat!" (not a good retort to "no 'I' in 'team'", except to throw doubt on the whole notion of such silly aphorisms)

(Also, not related but just to get it recorded somewhere so I get credit for creating it, a retort to such feminist whinings as "Why is it his-tory and not her-story?" - "Yeah! And why is it he-ro and not her-o? Um, wait a sec..." B))

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In a team sport, the guy who hogs the ball to the detriment of his team's victory is often quickly and rightly condemned for it. Maybe he wants to show off. Maybe he wants to pad his stats. Either way, the issue isn't selflessness or selfishness; it is a misfocus, a misprioritization of his goals: he puts something else above winning the game. That is what he should be condmemned for.

It's a lot easier, though, to say "don't be selfish" or "there's no 'I' in team" or another bromide than it is to explain the issue. Does someone have a witty retort to these bromides that would succinctly illuminate the correct issue? I don't have one but it would be nice. (It could also be used in other areas besides sports, such as corporate meetings.)

There's two "i"s in "a bunch of selfless idiots". There's no "I" in "team"? No wonder we can't see where we're going. (I just made these up)

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It's a lot easier, though, to say "don't be selfish" or "there's no 'I' in team" or another bromide than it is to explain the issue. Does someone have a witty retort to these bromides that would succinctly illuminate the correct issue? I don't have one but it would be nice. (It could also be used in other areas besides sports, such as corporate meetings.)

I use the retort, "Team is spelled i i i i", and then briefly explain that a team is merely a group of individuals working together toward common selfish interests. That is usually received fairly well.

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The great Leonard Marshall just gave an interview on NYC's 660 WFAN.

He said he works with various college programs, would love to do color for sports broadcasts, but would refuse any offer to coach in the NFL. He can't stand what he called the hip-hop player; TO was the example sited.

http://www.leonardmarshall.com/

JohnRGT

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It's a lot easier, though, to say "don't be selfish" or "there's no 'I' in team" or another bromide than it is to explain the issue. Does someone have a witty retort to these bromides that would succinctly illuminate the correct issue?

If someone says "there's no 'I' in team", you can just respond, "yeah, and there's no 'we' either." B)

can't find the reference now, but I did have a CyberNet item about a dispute between Dan Rusanowsky who does the play-by-play for the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey team and his color man. When the color man commended a player for making a sacrifice on the play, Rusanowsky gave him a mini-lecture on what self-interest and sacrifice really mean -- right on the air.

Is Objectivism permeating the culture, or what? That's great. Broadcasters have a megaphone to spread ideas, to the extent it's possible for a play-by-play guy. I also like the fact he's in San Jose, a place where many of the best and brightest reside.

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I use the retort, "Team is spelled i i i i", and then briefly explain that a team is merely a group of individuals working together toward common selfish interests. That is usually received fairly well.

I like that.

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If someone says "there's no 'I' in team", you can just respond, "yeah, and there's no 'we' either." B)

How about, "True, but also there is no, "We", while there is a "ME"..."

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Spent most of the day watching football, and saw nearly all of the fantastic Dallas/Washington game. At one point in that game, Terrell Owens caught a short touchdown pass, then did one of his unique end zone celebrations: he used the ball as a pillow and pretended to take a nap (he had been criticized this week for sleeping during a team meeting). The NFL has an "excessive celebration" penalty, and Owens was flagged for his, costing Dalls 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.

In several of the halftime/postgame commentaries I watched, Owens was repeatedly called "selfish" for his behavior. It's a criticism that's been leveled at him many times in his career. I think he deserves much of what's been said about him being a detriment to his team, despite his obvious on-field talent, but as is so often the case this is a misapplication of the word "selfish."

In my day I was quite an athlete. For example, I was easily the best player on my basketball teams: almost always leading in points, rebounds, and/or assists (I was especially proud of my defensive play). Yet I was universally called the most "unselfish" player on the team. At the time, long, long before I found Objectivism and grasped the correct meaning of "selfish," I agreed with that assessment. Now, however, I realize that I was far and away the most selfish player on those teams, because my overarching goal was winning games. That's what I wanted more than anything else, and I would always do whatever would best further that end.

Just once, I'd like to hear a professional athlete who's known as "unselfish" reject that term and point out that he's there to achieve his own, personal goals. It might help people realize what rational self-interest really means.

I'm glad you raised this issue. I've been thinking about similar things lately for a story about soccer that I've had, too bad, on the back-burner for too long.

In hindsight it seems that being a selfish player of the team is what "forced" me to postpone the writing.

Yes, "Just for once ..." -- how very special that would be!

How about at the Oscars! There's another story stored away in me waiting to be born ...

Jose Gainza.

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I like that.

Me too ... Because if one were to say so in the locker room it will immediately get your teammates to think about the issue; they will become immediately on the philosophical level if they grasp the idea at all.

Jose Gainza.

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Me too ... Because if one were to say so in the locker room it will immediately get your teammates to think about the issue; they will become immediately on the philosophical level if they grasp the idea at all.

Good point.

In that case you could say, "All those who agree say 'I'".

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And there's no "I" in "Self-absorbed jerk," either. Players who try to play as if they're a one-man team, end up with two teams in their way. Would it be called "selfish" if one guy on a bucket brigade decided to run his one bucket all the way from the well to the building? No. it would be called "stupid." Smart players, great players, know how to use the talents around them. Michael Jordan was acknowledged not just for his own brilliance, but for inspiring and bringing up the level of play around him. I watched Wayne Gretzky play a few times and, though I'm not generally a hockey buff, it was amazing to watch how he seemed to do nothing except be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and to handoff to someone else to score. Didn't he have the league record in assists? With modern statistical record-keeping, any team-sport athlete must know that they're in the record books for their successful efforts, over and above winning the individual games. If that's part of their goal, then being a good team player is still the most selfish thing one can be.

I was a singles player on my high school tennis team, never played doubles in competition, but we played a doubles round robin, each person paired with every other person on the team. I'd watched all these guys play and knew their strengths and weaknesses. I just made sure that I got out of the way of their best shots, set them up to hit winners, and covered when they were out of position. I had no interest in grandstanding; just winning. It was ironic when the coach read off the results and I was the only player to win every match with every single player on the team. Nothing like the joy of selfishness: I let someone else do half the work every time and I ended up a winner -- what a concept! :-)

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I wonder if the problem can be stated in terms of rights: by becoming part of a team, a player in effect agrees to work for that team's victory. His teammates have a right to expect him to hold up his end of the agreement. If he doesn't, by deliberately acting to the team's detriment, he violates their rights.

Is that the difference between a Terrell Owens and, say, a Chad Johnson (wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals - lots of talent and personality, but, as far as I know, no stunts that hurt the squad)?

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Is that the difference between a Terrell Owens and, say, a Chad Johnson (wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals - lots of talent and personality, but, as far as I know, no stunts that hurt the squad)?
I should have added: Would that also be the correct standard for judging whether Owens does in fact act wrongly when he does the things he's criticized for?

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I should have added: Would that also be the correct standard for judging whether Owens does in fact act wrongly when he does the things he's criticized for?

That's a pretty good way of stating the problem, in terms of a contract, for which, btw, many get paid extremely well. But it's really the structuring, the very identity of a team sport, that makes teamwork essential. The sport is designed so that one person really can't win all by themselves. It's a cooperative enterprise by design. The guys that grandstand and hog the ball (puck, whatever) can only get away with that because someone else is clearing a path for them. But you may not have the best shot every time and that's what passing is for. In football, the different positions require different different skills and actually different body types. A running back needs explosive leg power, a fullback needs to be a granite wall. A quarterback is a platoon leader with a good arm, good running ability, but not generally a lot of extra weight. For that, he's got bigger guys to take a beating to keep him intact.

Terrell Owens napping stunt probably slowed the game down and the refs had probably long ago had enough of his antics, so he didn't get away with it. It sounds stupid, not evil. But, just hearing a few things he's reported to have said, he doesn't think before he speaks and has talked down team members and said and done other things which are not conducive to morale and cooperation.

I think the criterion for appropriate behavior is a consideration on and off the field for what is best for the team, simply because that's, as you say [a] a contractual obligation voluntarily entered into and the way to ones own success, financially and in terms of personal achievement.

Even in individual sports, there is a team involved. Witness the traumas that many tennis players, golfers, skiers, and boxers have gone through when they change or lose coaches. Treating your associates with respect is selfish and consequently beneficial to yourself and everyone working with you. Self respect and benevolence are two sides of the same coin.

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That's a pretty good way of stating the problem, in terms of a contract, for which, btw, many get paid extremely well. But it's really the structuring, the very identity of a team sport, that makes teamwork essential. The sport is designed so that one person really can't win all by themselves. It's a cooperative enterprise by design. The guys that grandstand and hog the ball (puck, whatever) can only get away with that because someone else is clearing a path for them. But you may not have the best shot every time and that's what passing is for. In football, the different positions require different different skills and actually different body types. A running back needs explosive leg power, a fullback needs to be a granite wall. A quarterback is a platoon leader with a good arm, good running ability, but not generally a lot of extra weight. For that, he's got bigger guys to take a beating to keep him intact.
Right. BTW, I didn't mean to frame the whole issue in terms of a literal contract, though that's certainly crucial to professional athletes. I meant that the relationship between teammates is contractual in nature at every level, all the way from the pros to 5-year-olds playing T-ball. (Having coached a lot of little league sports, I've had to combat it first-hand.) And, as you point out below, it extends off the field as well, in many different ways.
Terrell Owens napping stunt probably slowed the game down and the refs had probably long ago had enough of his antics, so he didn't get away with it. It sounds stupid, not evil. But, just hearing a few things he's reported to have said, he doesn't think before he speaks and has talked down team members and said and done other things which are not conducive to morale and cooperation.
Owens is probably the best, and most visible, example of the problem these days. Of course it does happen in all sports at all levels. I grew up with a kid (call him K) who, in every sport he played, was arrogant, self-absorbed, and cruel to other players, both on other teams and his own. He also believed his talents were far greater than they were. In all the years I knew him, his attitude never changed.

His top sport was basketball, and I both played against him in little league games and with him on junior high school teams. Our 9th grade team finished atop the league, and there was talk that in high school we'd contend for a county title, and possibly go far in the state tournament. I left that team and chose not to play basketball for my high school, because I had had enough of K. The high school coaches tried to talk me out of it, but there was no way I was going to put up any longer with his grandstanding, ball-hogging, and insults to me both on and off the court. The last thing I said to my teammates after I told them I wouldn't be playing again was, "When you guys are seniors, you're going to lose twice as many as you win." Three years later, with K doing all the same things he'd ever done (and being near if not at the top of the league in scoring our senior year), their record was 7 wins, 15 losses. K was expecting to grab a big scholarship to a major college. He ended up going to a small, local school, without a scholarship, and he failed to make the basketball team when he tried out.

(That's not necessarily to say that that record would have been any better had I played. I basically stopped growing in 9th grade: 5'9" works for a center/forward at that level, but beyond that...not so much. B) No way to know if I'd have adapted well to playing guard.)

I think the criterion for appropriate behavior is a consideration on and off the field for what is best for the team, simply because that's, as you say [a] a contractual obligation voluntarily entered into and the way to ones own success, financially and in terms of personal achievement.

Even in individual sports, there is a team involved. Witness the traumas that many tennis players, golfers, skiers, and boxers have gone through when they change or lose coaches. Treating your associates with respect is selfish and consequently beneficial to yourself and everyone working with you. Self respect and benevolence are two sides of the same coin.

It extends even to, say, the owners. I haven't watched basketball for years, because so many professional players have become thugs both on and off the court, and that influence has reached far enough into the college and even high-school level, that I'm now turned off to the game I loved so much. I know many people share my opinion, and if enough of them do as I have the owners will suffer lost profits, and eventually there won't be enough money to pay the players the kind of salaries they get now. These thug players may end up costing themselves money and possibly damaging its source enough that it won't be able to be repaired.

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I just wanted to make a point.

The "grandstander" has been put into the spotlight as part of the problem in a team's success. Jordan and Gretzky seem to be the ideal standard of leadership and excellence. When a man like these two are not on a team, and all a team has is a "selfish" talent, then the team suffers.

I haven't paid attention to sports in many years and so I don't know what predominates. Is it possible that a leading player on a team, who may often seem like he's playing for prestige, seems like a hog, because his team is not pulling their own weight, and so he has to do it. Perhaps, pulling the team up to his level has become boring, and he may recognize that it was someone else's job to give him better players to work with, and so he decides to have fun playing the game he loves, instead of being the team's philanthropic benefactor. In business this phenomenon seems to be common, in the context that it is not unusual to find a great businessman who is constantly pressured to go on strike (a la Atlas Shrugged). Could the same phenomenon occur in Sports? Is Sports so specialized and artificial an industry that the same type of psychologies hardly ever attempt to bring down the great ones?

Jose Gainza.

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The "grandstander" has been put into the spotlight as part of the problem in a team's success. Jordan and Gretzky seem to be the ideal standard of leadership and excellence. When a man like these two are not on a team, and all a team has is a "selfish" talent, then the team suffers.

...

Is it possible that a leading player on a team, who may often seem like he's playing for prestige, seems like a hog, because his team is not pulling their own weight, and so he has to do it.

...

Perhaps, pulling the team up to his level has become boring, and he may recognize that it was someone else's job to give him better players to work with, and so he decides to have fun playing the game he loves, instead of being the team's philanthropic benefactor.

...

Is Sports so specialized and artificial an industry that the same type of psychologies hardly ever attempt to bring down the great ones?

Jose Gainza.

Good question. From what I've seen, as much as sports -- especially baseball -- has suffered from numerous scandals, the outrage generally seems generated at players or teams who take an illegal advantage or compromise the a result in some way, such as doping, or gambling against ones own team (Mark McGwire for anabolics, Pete Rose for gambling on his own games). My impression is that the fans are genuinely upset for the right reasons, the integrity of the game. I haven't seen the kind of cynicism that pervades the culture in politics and business -- or rather anti-business. People go to see exceptional achievement, are generally good-natured and fairly tolerant of personality quirks. But when someone cheats (knowingly violates the rules), you see an explosion of hostility from fans and dedicated sports writers. It's not life or death, so they expect that their heroes will remain heroes and operate within the rules that they have all been given.

Note the recent allegations that Barry Bonds took steroids. Here is one of those guys who believes he's better than the guys around him, but, since he arguably is, both the team and the fands tolerated it. There were jokes (he always talks about himself in the third person, for example, and he's been spoofed for that and other such quirks), but there was also great respect. He was an excellent all-around ballplayer and his home-run hitting has smashed long-standing records and approached the greatest ever. So a teammates revelation in an article that Bonds had gotten frustrated by other players' doping (e.g. McGwire and Conseco - admittedly, Sosa - allegedly), that he finally said 'to hell with it' and procured injections himself. If that is the case, then his records were achieved by temporarily altering his anatomy and physiology in a manner forbidden by the league in which he plays. That puts his achievements in doubt and his team at risk of losing prestige, money, and, maybe, a great player. My friends who are deeply into the sport generally agree that he was already sure to be in the Hall of Fame without the drugs. This was just his wanting to break some records and, to do it, he apparently decided to break the rules. There are before-and-after pictures that show a slimmer, less muscular guy than after the alleged doping. He hasn't admitted to anything, for the record.

The point is that I believe that team sports is still the last repository of idealism and optimism about human potential and achievement. I think that's a point that Andy Bernstein has been making for a long time.

I think the culturally pervasive tentacles of Altruism make themselves felt in sports in the form of the "God-given" abilities mantra and the sometimes beyond-diplomatic "I'm just here for the team"s and that sort of thing. There's a standard humble-pie pitch the athletes learn, but that just seems pro-forma, part of the PR thing. I think it's really just window dressing for a mixed-up culture. They know and we know that they are paid and appreciated for their abilities and accomplishments. See "Bull Durham" when Costner teaches Tim Robbins character the right canned responses for press consumption. I think it's just a convention and the fans still worship accomplishment in sports. Which is why it survives and prospers in good times and bad.

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Good question. From what I've seen, as much as sports -- especially baseball -- has suffered from numerous scandals, the outrage generally seems generated at players or teams who take an illegal advantage or compromise the a result in some way, such as doping, or gambling against ones own team (Mark McGwire for anabolics, Pete Rose for gambling on his own games). My impression is that the fans are genuinely upset for the right reasons, the integrity of the game.

The problem I have with this is that steroids were not against the rules of baseball when McGwire and others were allegedly taking them. Lots of people even came down on McGwire for taking "Andro" (IIRC), which was an over the counter supplement, and steroid precursor. For instance, Keith Olberman, of ESPN radio, accused him of "cheating" for taking this.

But, what bothered me most was Congress forcing baseball to do something about it, and the applauding on the side lines by fans and media a like. It was for the children, after all.

Athletes are always looking for an advantage, a way to improve their performance, by their diet, supplements, work out regimen, etc. I consider this to be a positive thing so long as done ethically.

I think, in the long run, with better medicine and technology, people will live much longer, be faster, stronger, and healthier, and this will result in lots of baseball's hallowed records falling. Lots of baseball purists (and those of other sports) are losing sight of this big picture.

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