Applying the McEnroe treatment

The news cycle spins faster than the speed of light, and every day there is a new celebrity or sports star to love or hate.
I’ve been watching intermittently the interesting developments in the life of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who took the college world by storm last year as a freshman by winning the Heisman Trophy.
While he was emerging last fall, Manziel was given a nickname, “Johnny Football.” He embraced the nickname, which caused me to snicker. I mean, it’s a pretty cool nickname for a 20-year-old kid, but it invites a kind of scrutiny many young people aren’t emotionally ready for. And lately, Manziel has received the kind of scrutiny he doesn’t need.
I won’t go into details, but I think it’s fair to say that Manziel has some growing up to do.
Not that I’m entirely unsympathetic. I agree with some so-called expert I heard on a recent sports talk show who pointed out that it’s not easy to handle the incredible public attention that comes with the fame Manziel … I’m sorry, Johnny Football … has received at such a young age. A few young celebrities appear to handle it well. Many, however, do not. And for us 99.99 percent who aren’t incredibly famous, we have no idea what they go through.
There is a sizeable portion of us who love cocky young anti-heroes like Manziel. There is another sizeable portion of us who hate immature, self-absorbed brats like Manziel.
Who we embrace as our heroes tells us something about us.
With this in mind, I strolled through the cobwebs of my own mind this week and remembered those sports celebrities whom I loved or hated through the years.
When I was a young lad, my favorite baseball player was Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Kaline, a future Hall of Famer and the youngest player ever to win a major league batting championship. Kaline was a hero’s hero. No negatives, only positives. He was a class act all the way around, and my parents would have been proud if I’d have grown up to be just like him.
But on the other hand…
I also came to admire another baseball Hall of Famer, Ty Cobb, who was possibly the meanest, nastiest player who ever lived. It was my misfortune, I guess, to have read a book during my impressionable years honoring the greatest baseball players of all time, and I’ll never forget what the author said about Ty Cobb. He was describing Cobb’s first turn in the batting cage with the Detroit Tigers as the veterans jostled him aside and made fun of the young newcomer from Georgia.
“Out of my way, you old goats!” Cobb said, according to the author. “I’m a better ballplayer now than you’ll ever be.”
The author then picks up the story: “He was. His name was Tyrus Raymond Cobb. And he was the greatest ballplayer who ever lived.”
The prose gave me goose bumps when I read it. And I was hooked on Cobb ever since.
My favorites have always tended to run the gamut, from nice guys to jerks. And, I must confess, I can’t rationally explain it.
I love tennis, and one of my first favorite players was Ilie Nastase. His nickname was “Nasty.” I don’t know. I just liked him. He was fun to watch, and his antics seemed inspired.
My favorite tennis player of all time is Bjorn Borg. One of the “nice” guys, I think most will agree. He dominated. And he did it without emotion. I loved his cool, confident demeanor.
Jimmy Connors? Didn’t exactly hate him, but I didn’t care for him, either, even though for many years I used his favorite racket, the Wilson T-2000. I didn’t like the chip on Connors’ shoulder.
I was an Ivan Lendl fan, too. He had few fans. He was considered a boor who had no personality. I thought him misunderstood.
John McEnroe? An interesting case. Early in his career, I gave him a pass on the immature antics he displayed repeatedly on the tennis court. But after another year or two, I gave him no more passes. But throughout his professional career, he never did grow up. I thought of him as a brat, a punk, and I secretly wished I could be a professional tennis player myself, so that when he held up the game while whining to the referee, saying “You can’t be serious …” I could jump over the net and sock him on the nose.
Funny how things continually change, however. Since McEnroe retired and joined the tennis broadcast booth, I’ve grown to like him quite a bit. He’s extremely informative, uses humor well, and isn’t reluctant to take a good-natured jab at himself and his public image. I like that a lot. I’d love to go out and share a diet soda with him.
When you live long enough, your perspective is bound to change, I guess.
So I’m going to suspend my judgment on Johnny Football. I’m giving him the McEnroe treatment.

One thought on “Applying the McEnroe treatment

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