Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan
The great divide
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 08:10
On Sept. 29, 2011, one day after the Boston Red Sox completed one of the most epic collapses in baseball history, Adrian Gonzalez sat in front of his locker and reflected on what had gone wrong.
“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan, and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward,” he said. “God didn’t have it in the cards for us.”
Seriously? You let down all of Red Sox Nation, crushing the souls of millions of New England children, and that’s what you say? Forget the fact that you just assigned God a male gender identity — you have failed to take responsibility for your team’s utter incompetence.
Now, it would be understandable — logical, even — for a fan to hear Gonzalez’s quote and think, “No wonder the Sox collapsed with that type of attitude.”
But here’s the thing: On the field, Adrian Gonzalez was not the source of the team’s problems. Not only did he have an MVP−caliber season, but in September he had a .455 on−base percentage and 14 RBIs.
You know who seemed much more remorseful, much more pissed off, than Gonzalez after the collapse? Carl Crawford, he of the .295 OBP and .440 slugging percentage in September.
There are a few takeaways here. One is that what athletes say about sports has little to nothing to do with how well they actually play them.
But more importantly, the lesson is that athletes don’t think about sports the way you and I think about sports. Fans want them to and journalists press them to, but more often than not, they don’t.
Take Eli Manning. Twice, he has engineered game−winning touchdown drives in the Super Bowl. In both cases, millions upon millions of people were watching, and the pressure was unimaginable. In both cases, I could barely stand to watch.
If Eli thought the way I think, he would have been engaging in the following inner dialogue in the fourth quarter:
“Holy crap. Ho−ly CRAP. There are people in 228 countries watching me right now. What I do in the next few minutes is going to determine how I’m perceived by the entire world for the rest of my life. Please, don’t let me throw an interception.”
Evidently, I don’t have the head, let alone the arm, to be an NFL quarterback. To succeed under pressure, an athlete has to put the magnitude of the moment aside and focus on the task at hand.
Now, consider again the case of Adrian Gonzalez. On the one hand, his comments were infuriating to fans who had paid to see him play. On the other hand, maybe “leaving it up to God” is Gonzalez’s way of taking pressure off himself on the field.
It is, of course, impossible to know exactly what goes on inside an athlete’s head. What is clear, though, is that the formula for optimal athletic success is to put aside outside factors: statistics, standings and stakes.
Think about all the cliches athletes use that drive us to insanity: We just have to take it one game at a time. We can only control how we play. It’s gonna come down to who wants it more. Any team can win on any day. They are who we thought they were.
Okay, maybe not that last one.
As silly and obvious as these comments may seem, they do not indicate that athletes are simple, thickheaded people.
What they indicate is that, in the heat of battle, complex thoughts are counterproductive. The result is the occasional quote that is baffling to the average, logical observer.
My take? Having athletes and fans see eye to eye was not a part of God’s plan.
Aaron Leibowitz is a junior who is majoring in American studies. He can be reached at Aaron.Leibowitz@tufts.edu.