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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Brett Lawrie’s tantrum not the best message for aspiring young athletes

Being a professional athlete is a difficult and demanding job.  Individuals have to be not only exceptionally talented, but have worked long and hard to be among the one per cent of one percent who “rise to the top” of all those who began playing a particular sport as kids simply for fun.

In the same breath, while the financial rewards nowadays are handsome indeed for those who make it, athletes face a daily and very public pressure—besides their own personal performance expectations—from fans and the media.

It can be a bit too easy at times to criticize others when we don’t fully live through or understand the unique pressures someone else faces, including those often daunting public pressures and expectations facing many athletes.

That said, on occasion, a player will do something that makes a fan—or any interested observer—do a bit of a double take.  Such was the case recently when Brett Lawrie, the outstanding young third baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays acted out publicly in a game.

In the contest in question, the Blue Jays were trailing by several runs in the 9th inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles.  There were runners on first and third when young Lawrie, a talented and intense player, hit a fly ball to right field.  The ball was caught and the player on third base, teammate Adam Lind, did not attempt to score after the catch.

When Lawrie saw this (as he returned to his team’s dugout) he looked at both at Lind and the Jays third base coach, Luis Rivera.  He appeared to be saying something.  He was clearly agitated that Lind had not tried to advance, which was a decision made by the experienced coach.  The coach understood that Lind’s “run” was not important, given that the Jays were behind by several runs and there was a risk Lind, a slow runner, would be thrown out at home by the Orioles right-fielder, Nick Markakis, who has a very good throwing arm. 

The Jays needed a lot more than the run Lind might have scored on a risky attempt, yet Lawrie was visibly upset, and his anger carried over into the dugout where he was told by the team manager, John Gibbons, to calm down—with words, based on reading his lips, that were much harsher than what I just wrote.

What essentially occurred is that Lawrie had thrown a public tanrum, essentially publicly embarrassing and “calling out” (in sporting terms) a respected third-base coach (and former player himself) and his own teammate, Lind. 

Was Lawrie upset because the Jays needed that run, or because he missed a chance for a precious RBI—a personal statistical benefit which would also have helped his then dwindling early-season batting average?  (A player is not charged with an “out” or an official time at bat if he is credited with a run-scoring “sacrifice fly”.)

Those of us not in the team’s dressing room don’t know how teammates may have truly felt after the outburst.  But one could surmise that there are many major-league locker rooms (a successful organization like the New York Yankees, captained by the legendary Derek Jeter and with a legacy of success, might be one example) where it is unlikely that kind of publicly selfish behaviour would be tolerated.

It’s one thing to be an “intense” player who gives his all in endeavoring to help his team win.  It’s quite another to take that intensity and turn it against your own teammates (and coaches) and do so in a public fashion—because you put yourself above your team.

The Jays came back to win that particular game with a rather remarkable comeback after the Lawrie incident.  Interestingly, however, his behaviour was talked about more than the impressive victory.  And that may well be because a solitary victory in a 162-game season, while important, is nowhere near as important as how teammates treat and respect one another through the marathon that is a professional sports season.

Soccer has always been a sport, it seems, where professionals display their negative emotions in public toward teammates and for some reason, it is tolerated and accepted.  Yet such behaviour sets a terrible example for youngsters.  I’ve seen countless examples on youth soccer sidelines over the years of young players abusing officials, disrespecting adult coaches and criticizing their own teammates—by gestures and words—because they wanted to receive the ball at a certain location, or at a particular moment, whatever the case may be.

Where is this type of behaviour learned?  Usually in the home—or by watching what adult professionals behave like.

Regardless, when that kind of attitude of “blaming others” is learned at an early age, it can carry on forever.  That sense of personal entitlement and an accompanying lack of accountability sometimes never really leaves the individual. Watching an adult professional like Lawrie act out the other day was a reminder of what it was like seeing a much younger athlete with a huge ego (and who has always seen themselves as better than others) act immaturely.

Those “athletes”, those individuals, young or old, may indeed be “better” players than some of their teammates.  But their attitude is not.  And for a lot of us, being a good teammate and having the right kind of attitude is far more important than being “better” on the field of play.

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