A recent article in Newsmax highlighted a Harvard study finding that almost half of our conversations are about ourselves. Athletes certainly lead the charge when it comes to bragging or “self-disclosure” – the Harvard study’s polite expression for bragging. According to the study, bragging makes people feel good about themselves but whatever happened to that distant time when individuals mostly let their accomplishments speak for themselves? Muhammad Ali’s catch-phrase, “I am the greatest,” was considered outrageous – yet this rant seems almost quaint compared to the bombast we see from athletes and celebrities who are nowhere near greatness.
Perhaps a significant contribution is being made by access to social media such as Facebook and Twitter where bragging is an American pastime. They have become the places where we say, “look at me”, according to behavior expert and author Dr. Sandy Brewer. Boasting is often a cover for people’s insecurities, and Dr. Brewer explains that “all that bravado is really based on low self-esteem. If we need to boast to be somebody, then it can be dangerous.” Facebook has become a perpetual high school reunion where people feel the need to say how well they are doing.
Even the US Olympic women’s soccer team learned that it is possible to take “self-puffery” way too far when, following its gold medal win, the players put on shirts that read: “Greatness Has Been Found.” The display provoked an angry backlash. Sportswriter Ben Rothlisberger of the New York Times tweeted “Greatness has been found – but not humility.” London newspapers referred to the shirts as tacky and graceless.
Consider two recent NFL playoff games – the game between Green Bay and Minnesota and the game between Washington and Seattle. Both were played during the weekend January 5-6. Back when my children played sports in elementary school, the leagues had rules that all children on the team got to play a portion of each game no matter how strong they might be as a player. Everyone got to play at least 25% of a game. Participation in practice meant the child got to play in the games. Think about the Minnesota Vikings, who had to play a playoff game with a quarterback (Joe Webb) who had not taken a snap from center at all during the course of the 2012 season. Not surprisingly, Joe Webb was absolutely dreadful completing only 36.6% of his passes, throwing one interception and losing one fumble. What if during the course of the season the Vikings coaches had found ways to give Mr. Webb some playing time so that if he was needed in a crunch, he might have some idea about the pace and flow of a regular season NFL game? Webb looked clueless in the game, and the Vikings suffered greatly for it.
In the end, it is clear that the Vikings’ starting quarterback, Christian Ponder, has a bright future. But the failure to play the team’s back-up quarterback at any time during the course of the season – when there were times when they could have done so – was detrimental to the team. NFL coaches have long protected the psyches of starting NFL quarterbacks by refusing to take them out of games even for short periods of time – especially when they are playing lousy or when the team is so far ahead or behind that the starting quarterback won’t have a material effect. Had the Vikings given some playing time to Joe Webb during the course of the season, they may well have survived to play the next week in the playoffs. Maybe the elementary schools rules, where everyone gets to play, are pertinent to building an entire team – not just the ego of the starting quarterback.
Who doesn’t like Robert Griffin III (RGIII), the Washington Redskins quarterback? Though there is some controversy (now clearly settled) as to whether he should have played on and stayed in the playoff game, he is a wonderful young NFL quarterback. But he was not very effective in the game, and finished with 19 passing attempts, 10 completions for 84 yards, two touchdown passes, and an interception. He also rushed for 21 yards on five carries. This was an anemic performance and, once again, we question any decision to let a player of his stature continue playing while negatively affecting his team’s overall poor performance. Griffin clearly hurt his knee in the first quarter of the game while awkwardly throwing a pass, and it was clear he was not his “usual self” – he clearly favored the knee and was unable to run with his over-the-top speed that had helped his team (and individual performance) all season.
However it became clear that he was hurting the team, not helping. He even fumbled late in the game, which helped the Seahawks put away the game with a late field goal. Consider what might have occurred if RGIII had said, “I am unable to do my best for the team, so let the back-up takeover – he will be more effective, and I might make a mistake that will cost us the game.” Instead he bragged about people not understanding what it is like to be in the line of fire in battle and he also muttered something about manhood and being a man (all of this delivered via Twitter). Fortunately we can take these statements as coming from a self-centered 22-year-old who is a product of the “bragging” generation as mentioned above. Self-esteem does not come from winning. It comes from being proud of yourself that you did the right thing in the circumstance you were in. In this case, admitting that he couldn’t go on and yielding to someone who could do a potentially better job for the team was the right thing to do. This would have been the courageous act, not flopping around on the field unable to make anything happen on behalf of your teammates.
Joe Webb was thrust onto a stage he wasn’t in the least prepared for, and Robert Griffin III should have bowed out gracefully admitting he couldn’t be of help to the team. Both teams lost – and should have. What is worse is that the coaching staffs were stuck in thinking that they didn’t want to damage the “fragile egos” of their quarterbacks. However, they did quite the opposite – Joe Webb’s confidence is likely shattered, and RGIII’s knee is hurt (with surgery looming). This does not bode well for their futures. Teams that put individual players ahead of what is best for the team deserve to lose. Where did they think this was going?