Humility is an attribute that is getting rarer in contemporary professional sport. With football players refusing to play so they can get big money transfers and NFL MVPs obligated to say they are “going to Disneyland!” you are unlikely to see the best of the best refusing to celebrate or a last-gasp loser showing magnanimity.
Part of the issue is that any major incident is replayed. Instantly. We all see it in super slow motion, from a vast spectrum of angles and voiced over by countless experts. We get our opinion and then retell it immediately. As the game is going on we are all discussing the occurrences in real time.
We also apply emotion. The sports broadcasting industry is propelled by preamble. A story has to be made out of every single instance. So when we force this industry to support itself with the fans’ desires and need for the story we are channelling one or two individuals further into the limelight. That pedestal is aligned with a mike and a camera. Say your piece…
Obviously in some cases God is thanked, because the big man took time out of his busy day to make it all go well for one man, but also there is talk of performance and the instances. “What did you make of it?” You. The guy in the centre of the incident. We focus on them, and as keyboards chatter and social networking sites whir away we are all confronted with a solitary image and a track of questions.
It is hard to be humble when heroes are made, then broken, instantly. It is also hard not to create monsters when there is a coliseum of baying fans screaming for new monsters to slay the old – ones we all conspired to create.
Are we not entertained?
Well if we are it is because the industry is juiced by emotion and we will attribute it to the individual stars, assuming that it burns within them. We create stars, but it is very rare we have a total package that is all things to all people. So they are forced to perform.
We love the post match interview. I’ll not lie about it. I hate the post match interview. Straight after a game is the worst time to talk to someone, because they cannot think clearly or objectively. They will be at their most emotional, though, and that is why we love it. Fair play to Warren Gatland after the semi-final. He showed composure, clarity and an unwillingness to blame the official outright or alienate his captain or kickers. He showed humility I did not think he possessed.
On the incident, Sam Warburton accepted his fate and went over to the touchline. He knew he had gotten a little over excited and letting go of Clerc was his problem. Sure it was likely a yellow card, but by the letter of the law it was also fair enough to say it could be a red. If the ref backs himself you cannot argue, and the Welsh skipper didn’t. His coach didn’t blame the loss entirely on that, either. Both showed world sport how you react to a knock-back.
With the screaming horde, however, it will continue. It is one of ‘Those’ moments in sport. Like Zidane’s head butt or Usain Bolt’s World Championship false start. It happened, the sportsmen want to get past it, but the frenzied press and the yelping supporters need to get the story. They need the emotion and they need it to be talked over. For the star pushed into the light it is not 15 minutes of fame they have to endure but a week or so of fostered hysteria. A couple of days repeated copy on Sky Sports News and possibly a quiz show question. Then we all slope off, looking for our next fix.
You could say that this is why we have fewer men of humility. We dissect them publicly, analysing everything, and a slip-up is better copy than something virtuous. Saying you admire your opposition is much less interesting than refusing to shake their hand. Would anyone be as interested in boxing if there wasn’t the pantomime match-up beforehand?
The flipside of this is that we also have a handful of stars with longevity. Wilkinson will always be a story. Tiger Woods will forever be a story. To a lesser extent Phil Taylor or Ronnie O’Sullivan will always make headlines, if only for one week a year.
As a result of this we may actively try to make sportsmen something they are not. People forget how teeth-itchingly bad David Beckham was in front of a camera. He was a brand, though, so we had to put up with him learning his way over the last 15 years or so. Now he is bearable. In England it will be the same with Rooney.
So in Scottish rugby, with our perennial gallant loser tag, we have had an individual star, in Chris Paterson, that embodies our underdog status. We are quite humble, but it sticks out more because many others aren’t and because it is a culture of excuse. It is almost a default modesty until we win. Then we get carried away. With change, our franchise star will also change; it looks set to be Richie Gray. I just hope that with such brand recognition he begins to show more humility, because he is going to be out in centre much, much more.
As for the rest of the World Cup: Australia are out of the running, which may well humble Quade Cooper (which I doubt). England are gone, under a dark cloud, but the talk of their arrogance is over-discussed and analyzed by their own press. France showed some sportsmanship by letting New Zealand wear All Black for the final.
With regards to the hosts, though, it is time to show nothing but humility. They have led the way throughout the tournament, so it would be fitting if they did the same off the field right at the end. Rugby can still show that it is a uniting, caring force and with New Zealand finally recognising its one true global icon and winner, in ultimate team player Richie McCaw, the IRB could promote its best side and the true value of team sport. That would be the best result for the Rugby World Cup.