As William Shakespeare wrote, ”All the world’s a stage“. Many of the most fascinating stories in sport come from the athletes who view their profession as exactly that – a stage for them to display their talents.
Personally, I do not subscribe to the maxim that says sport is entertainment, especially when justifying its more oleaginous aspects.
I have always viewed it as an athletic contest between either individuals or a group of people to determine which is superior. The fact that this happens to be something that is engrossing is a happy coincidence, nothing else.
However, part of what makes sport so enthralling are the actions of a supremely talented person, one who fully believes in their own abilities, so much so that they are deemed as arrogant, and often fail to gain the sympathy of many sports fans. This becomes more acute when the individual in question is part of a team.
One of the more undignified sporting stories of the summer concerned Kevin Pietersen. The 32-year-old was dropped from the England side, seemingly for good, after making critical comments of his team mates to members of the South African squad (whom he was competing against at the time). This was the latest in a series of controversial incidents to dog the South African’s cricketing career.
Cristiano Ronaldo also fits into this category. Often looked upon by many in this country as a man who would be more suited to a supermodel catwalk than a football pitch, he was once asked why he feels he comes in for such criticism.
His response was as follows: “I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player, people are envious of me. I don’t have any other explanation.” He recently stated that he was “sad” at Real Madrid, which is rumoured to be because he feels that players such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are more highly valued in their roles at Barcelona than he is at the Santiago Bernabeu.
This phenomenon of the sporting egotist is not restricted solely to men. The United States women’s soccer team is one of the world’s best. However, press stories often centre around their goalkeeper, Hope Solo. Her recent autobiography ensured Solo and controversy were bedfellows once again.
Solo talks about being branded as a traitor by some of her team mates after being dropped during the 2007 World Cup, writing: “I do believe back in ’07 I would have made those saves … I’m confident in who I am as a player and as a person … I would have made a difference.”
These athletes will often be derided for their vanity. Handwringing over why cannot they be more of a team player are commonplace, as are press articles using the likes of Pietersen, Solo and Ronaldo as an exemplar for why society has gone to the dogs.
Yet what many fail to realise is that adjectives such as arrogant, pompous and cocky are subjective. I doubt Pietersen thinks himself arrogant any more than Ronaldo thinks himself cocky. If your sporting life is a film in which you are the star, then the aforementioned anecdotes are perfectly justifiable.
Ego itself is a fascinating thing. It is a Latin word, meaning “I”. However, the drive for one’s own satisfaction can come into conflict with the needs of the collective. The intriguing thing for coaches is trying to balance the two together. After all, if these performers come with so much personality baggage, then why would one bother selecting them?
Without Pietersen, England’s magical Ashes summer of 2005 would not have happened. After becoming the world’s highest ranked team at Test level, it seemed as though England thought it could succeed without him. It was unable to, and as such, an uneasy truce looks to have been forged.
Since 2007, Ronaldo has been indispensable for Manchester United and Real Madrid. The Premier League titles of 2007, 2008 and 2009, Champions League success in 2008, Copa Del Rey in 2010 and La Liga trophies of 2012 would not have come about had the Portuguese played for another club.
Solo has been a key member of the United States’ recent run of success. The team is top of the FIFA women’s rankings and retained its Olympic title this summer, having won gold four years ago. If you want to know how good a player she is, then click here.
Being a shameless egotist only makes the pressure of being a top level athlete more intense. Your coaches and team mates are likely to find you irritating, and the second an “ego” is no longer an asset on the field of play, colleagues will have no qualms in throwing them under the bus.
I’m not sure why, but sporting superciliousness tends to be more tolerable in individual competition. While there are examples of distasteful self regard in the form of Floyd Mayweather, Bode Miller and Mark Cavendish, I seldom hear the tag of arrogance levelled at the likes of Roger Federer, Usain Bolt or Oscar Pistorius.
And yet, what links every sports star I have name checked – and many more besides – is that they see sport as more than displaying athletic prowess. It is their personal platform. For them, the world exists to showcase their brilliance, and like the titular Emperor from “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, we should all turn out in the streets in sheer wonder to admire just how special they are.
Yet like a microcosm for being, the sporting life is a short one. The bulk of their careers may be analogous to Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, but it’s likely to end like Bette Davis in “All About Eve” Athletic brilliance is seldom forgotten, but it is ultimately fleeting.
While the Shakespeare line about the world being a stage is often used in moments of grandiloquence, it actually comes at a very maudlin moment in “As You Like It”, concluding: ”Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
Eventually the same fate will befall the careers of our sporting superstars. And not even their egos will save them.
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