We don’t do a lot of trash talking in my business.
At least, not face-to-face.
Sure, there’s some posturing and whining — lots of whining — that goes on behind closed doors in the world of public relations. But when you’re up close and personal with your biggest competitors, it’s all sweetness and light. We say, “Wow, you guys did a great job on that campaign” when what we’re really thinking is, “Seriously? Monkeys on bicycles? Couldn’t you come up with something a little less Bonzo?”
So there’s a part of me that kind of admires the in-your-face audacity of contemporary athletes like Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman, who has been Big News this week since his pugnacious interview on live television last Sunday following his late-game heroics in the Seahawks’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
“I’m the best cornerback in the game!” he bellowed in an adrenaline-laced tirade that has been replayed more times this week than “Jingle Bells” was the entire month of December. “When you try me with a sorry receiver like (the 49ers' Michael) Crabtree, that’s the result you are going to get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”
Which, of course, is exactly what everyone has been doing ever since.
Including, evidently, me.
I’m not sure what this incident tells us about the young athlete in question. From what I gather, he is bright and articulate and benevolently involved in his community. Nor do I know what it tells us about sports in general and football in particular. Anyone who was previously unaware of the intensity, passion and bravado required to play professional sports these days wasn’t really paying attention.
What I do wonder about, though, is what the incident — and the public reaction to it — tells us about us. Why do we care so much about what athletes — and, for that matter, movie stars, musicians and well, whatever it is that Kim Kardashian is — say, do and think, while we pay little attention to the world’s leading scientists, mathematicians, economists and philanthropists?
Quick, who was last year’s MVP in the NBA?
Who won the Best Actor Oscar at last year’s Academy Awards ceremony?
Now, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize?
I may be wrong, but I’m guessing you — like me — had an easier time coming up with the names of the MVP (LeBron James) and the Oscar-winner (Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln”) than you did the Nobel Laureate (the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).
So what does that say about us and our values, principles and priorities?
Well, I’m not really sure about that, either. I want to believe that it’s just human nature to be curious about those whom we pay handsomely to entertain us. But for some reason I keep seeing in my mind an image of Russell Crowe in his “Gladiator” costume, prowling the Coliseum following a bloody battle, his arms outstretched as he shouts derisively to his audience: “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
He didn’t add, but could have: “Don’t you ever talk about me!”
The Roman poet Juvenal wrote contemptuously about the decline of Rome, bemoaning that “the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”
I don’t think we’re at that point — yet. But it does sometimes feel like we’re beginning to wander down that path when the value of entertainment is inflated to the point that the thoughtless ramblings of a football player dominate the national consciousness and conversation.
Even among those not inclined to talk trash.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com.