- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
I hope I will not be thought discourteous, if, writing for a distinguished sporting journal, I say more about the impact of a good deal of modern sporting journalism upon the lives and minds of young and talented players.
As every man engaged in public affairs knows, it takes a great deal of strength of mind and balance and experience to ignore ignorant criticism and to select and be influenced by informed and just criticism. Boys of 20, playing some game under the eyes of the entire world, under strain, would be phenomenal if they knew how to deal with the mental problems of ignoring or evaluating criticism. If some become swollen headed, as a result of extravagant praise, and others sullen or moody under extravagant blame, it is not to be wondered at. I have sometimes advised young champions at tennis or cricket to give up reading the criticisms until their current series of matches is over. This is on the very sound principle that, though real experts always write understanding, the pungent criticisms of players by those who do not and never have studied the game cannot possess much value.
There is, for those of us who love these games, nothing more pleasant than a vivid account of some match in the press or over the air. Both the ear and the imagination are stimulated. But the occasional extravagant commentator who thinks his opinions are more important than the story of the game is a constant irritant. Nor do I, for one, want to read lurid stories (usually quite fictitious) about alleged personal quarrels among players. It may be thought to be proof of advancing years if I say also that I still prefer a lively report of a Davis Cup match I cannot attend to a series of glossy paragraphs about the love life or matrimonial intentions of the players—but I do.
What is the effect of the Davis Cup or other contests on international relations? The accepted answer is "good." It appears to be widely believed that the spectacle of two or four young athletes fighting out a Davis Cup tie, or a Wimbledon or Forest Hills final, is in its very nature a contribution to international understanding and good will.
PLAYERS, CRITICS, SPECTATORS
This is, I think, substantially true; but it is not inevitably true. The truth is that it depends for the most part on the players, partly on the sporting critics, and of course partly on the spectators. A skillful but ill-tempered and uncontrolled player, glaring at umpires and spectators alike, can in an hour do his own country's reputation for sportsmanship immeasurable harm. You know how fond we all are of generalizing from single instances. An American slams his racquet into the ground and makes rude noises at a linesman. "Ah," says a non-American spectator—"These Americans! Always want to have their own way!" An Australian, at Forest Hills, puts on a childish act. "Look!" says an American spectator—"The trouble with these guys from down under is that they can't take a defeat without blaming somebody else." Both statements are nonsense. But they are made, all too frequently.
As the simple onlooker, I do not find the reasons for these occasional tantrums very difficult to understand. It might be useful to try to analyze the problem a little.
Sporting crowds are anything but fools, particularly when the game they are watching (which most of them have played) requires great skill and much subtlety of tactics and execution. There will, of course, be some fools among them; and some inscrutable law of Providence seems to have ordained that fools are frequently more vocal than wise men. But in Australia, about which I can speak with closer knowledge, a great crowd at a Davis Cup tie sees and understands a great deal of what is going on. It is quick to distinguish between the bad temper of a player whose conceit makes him blame somebody else for his own error, and the honest annoyance with himself of a player who is tensed up to do his best for his side, and falls into a blunder. No more popular player or more creditable American ever came to Australia to play Davis Cup than Ted Schroeder. Yet frequently I have seen him going back to serve after netting an easy volley, shaking his head and talking to himself with whimsical but violent disapproval. We all loved him for it. It was a natural and human part of his keenness and his will to win.
It is my own opinion that alleged "incidents" are grossly exaggerated in the reports. If we require, as we do nowadays, that mere boys should devote their lives to the game, in spite of their immaturity in general matters, we should not hypocritically expect that their demeanor will at all times and under all circumstances resemble that of a student of mental and moral philosophy. It is not uncommon to find an elderly businessman, fresh from roaring at some underling across his desk or over the telephone, glaring reprovingly at the tennis player who has displayed a sudden spark of ordinary humanity. My own complaint about the young champions of today is not that they complain too much, but that they smile too little. Perhaps it is inheritance: someone once said that the "English take their pleasures sadly."
To sum up, I think that by and large the players in Davis Cup matches have done a first-class job for international good will and understanding. The United States, since the war, has sent to Australia many fine players. With trivial exceptions, they have been outstanding athletes, intelligent and courteous. They have helped Australians to think well of Americans as a whole. I have never listened to one of them making a speech of thanks or of congratulation without marveling at their poise, their fluency, their choice of words. They have made me an admirer of American education.