Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Entertainment vs. Competition

This morning on WEEI Dennis and Callahan interviewed "Not So" Big Papi. They asked him about how fans treated him last year, and whether he thought fans were down on him too soon in his early season slump. Ortiz, gracious as usual, responded something to the effect that the fans at Fenway have always been his biggest supporters, and that they understand the work ethic and enthusiasm he brings to the table. He also said the athletes have a clear understanding that they are there to entertain the fans, and that the fans expect to be entertained.

That got me thinking. Are professional athletes entertainers? Or are they here to win? If they think of themselves as entertainers, does that jeopardize their chances to win? I guarantee Belichick would never say that "do your job" = "be an entertainer." Thoughts?



Cog-Slice said...

Great question. And, to be honest, it's slightly disappointing to hear Papi say that - though I get his point.

It does seem like many athletes think of themselves as entertainers. And to many people that is what they are. They shouldn't be. I watch my teams because I want them to win. Much of that comes from being a competitive athlete myself growing up.

One of the reasons I love to watch college basketball (esp in March) is because it's such a different experience. Seeing true competition, and guys laying it all out and sacrificing their bodies just to WIN.

Seems like in most professional sports there is a spectrum of type of players - 'competitors' and 'entertainers'. I'd never mention a Trot Nixon in the same breath as Manny Ramirez (esp now that they aren't team mates). Just as I wouldn't mention The TOs and Chad Ochocincos in the same breath as Wes Welker/Kevin Faulk/Matt Light.

Sports are entertainment, but I want athletes to be competitive - that's where the entertainment value is for me.

Chad said...

I think fans are going to differ in terms of what they consider "entertainment". Hardcore baseball fans will be entertained when a right-handed batter tries to go the other way to move a runner over to 3rd. Those who aren't quite into the subtle joys of the game will only be entertained by the long ball, and I think that's who Papi is referring to here.

This discussion makes me think of what Tony Allen did to his knee a couple seasons back. Now whenever one of the Celtics goes up for a meaningless dunk after the whistle, I find myself cringing and thinking "DON'T DO THAT!". Casual fans might want the added entertainment value of that dunk, but I'm more focused on a healthy team entertaining me in the playoffs. :-)

Aaron_Strout said...

Adam - thought provoking post. Thanks for starting the day off on a philosophical note.

I was thinking of my comment this AM and then read Mike aka Cog-Slice and Chad's retorts and I have to say, they've said everything that I was going to.

Bottom line is that there are two types of players, the ones that Belichick would coach and then the ones that Isiah Thomas would coach. I'll let you all figure out which is which. ;)

Tim Walker said...

Great topic, Adam.

I can't agree with the idea that there are two types of players. Life doesn't work that way, and even something as simplified as sports doesn't work that way.

A better model, I think, would be a grid, where "entertainer" is measured on the one axis and "competitor" is measured on the other.

~You have competitors who reject the notion of being entertainers (e.g. Belichick) or just can't bother to think about entertainment because they're so laser-focused on competition (Jerry West comes to mind).

~You have competitors who also embrace entertainment -- e.g. LeBron, Magic, Ali, or (with apologies to Cog-Slice) Ochocinco.

~You have entertainers who are not so great as competitors. Insert your own examples here.

~You have non-competitive non-entertainers. This represents a bunch of forgettable players in every sport.

~And then you have a bunch of guys somewhere in-between. E.g. Barry Bonds was uber-competitive at times, less-competitive at others, and he could be entertaining when he chose to be . . . which wasn't always.

And, by the way, you have the really complex cases. A great example of this would be Ted Williams. It was obvious that he was a balls-out competitor AS A HITTER, but for stretches of his career he couldn't be bothered to muster that competitive drive as a fielder. And you'd think that he was resolutely anti-entertainment, what with refusing to tip his cap to the Fenway faithful and all, but in fact he refused to change his batting style because he knew that the fans wanted to see him rake the ball rather than spray it all over the field for yet another .400 season.

It's not cut-and-dried.

adamcohen said...

Great thoughts gang.

Tim, I am envisioning a 3D matrix. The 3rd axis is payscale. Lowest paid, highly competitive, no-showboating folks would be typical Belichick recruits. Highly paid in the entertainer-side of the scale would be a Manny or Bonds. You could chart an athlete's progression on the graph over time. Dare I suggest that as Brady has moved overtime to be highly paid, and (citing evidence of the "TB" hats) say he's curved back toward the entertainer scale? Who else could be like that. Schilling?? Even Pedro, who has probably come back around to want to be more competitive to close out his career?

Derek Peplau said...

At the end of the day, entertainment is a by-product of what these people do for a living. Whether a give set of fans *likes* the manifestation of that entertainment is another matter entirely. At its most basic level, the purpose of sports is to entertain.

The result of the contest proves one team or individual is better than another at least and indeed at most. The game may have implications as part of a larger picture, but none of any of it decides political contests, sets international borders or policy, affects the stock market, etc. etc.

Some of these players take the "entertainment" aspect to heart more than others, and the degree to which they take that view of things is co-mingled with varying degrees of desire to win.

From a non-athlete's perspective, it seems that some professional athletes' most important goal is making it to the pros, and landing a huge contract. That having been accomplished, the rest is pretty much details. Some, on the other hand, take winning very seriously either as a matter of personal pride, or just as a matter of course...that's just what you do.

Moreover, I think players attitudes in some cases change over time due to age, experience, complacency about money or an abundance of championships (or even a paucity of them), or any number of things.

In order to be a successful professional athlete, in 99 cases out of 100, you need to possess a drive to win and to work hard in addition to your natural talents. Entertaining the fans with the exception of the T.O.'s of the world, is probably something they don't really think much about after awhile.

Tim Walker said...

This comment thread is why I love Big Papelbon.


Aaron_Strout said...