Sometimes the truth hurts more than any lie could…
So I may have mentioned my emerging soccer fandom. Since the last World Cup I’ve become a fairly avid Seattle Sounders fan, but, let’s be honest, Major League Soccer is not exactly a good league (sorry, Mr. Garber), so naturally I’ve also kept an eye on some European leagues and a headline from the Spanish Primera División (La Liga) caught said eye.
The story details Cristiano Ronaldo, the star of Real Madrid, one of the richest and most successful teams in all of Europe, and his… less than charitable interview after he and his team were beaten by Atlético Madrid, specifically that he said his teammates were not as good as he was and that was the reason Real Madrid lost.
Now there’s a certain perception that most people hold of Ronaldo, one certainly not hurt by his behavior on the field. Basically that he’s a pathetic baby who can’t handle when things don’t go his way. So if you’re anything like me, you read that headline, thought ‘Same old Ronaldo’ and went back to what you were doing (beating his team on your copy of Fifa 2016 that you play on amateur difficulty because you still don’t understand how soccer works).
Apparently not many people are like me, because it would seem that most did not go back about their day. Ronaldo caught enough heat that, within hours, he retracted his statement, saying “I am not better than any of my teammates.”
And this is where the painful truth comes in, because… Yes, Ronaldo, yes you are. Specifically, you’re better than 99.99999% of people who have ever kicked a football, and no, not just on a physical level. There are 7 billion people on Earth right now, and you’re definitively better at soccer than 6,999,999,999 of them, in every way, and on some days you might even be better than Messi. And what’s more, I refuse to believe you don’t know that.
I hate to admit that. It’s taken me a day and a half to get to this post, and most of it I spent convincing myself to actually write that paragraph.
Look, I’m not here to defend Ronaldo’s first statement. Airing your dirty laundry in public has never done any good for any team and it wreaked of childish frustration at losing to the crosstown rivals and being held goalless.
But why is the way to fix that false humility?
Once the second story broke, I went back and read in full the first article on Ronaldo’s post-game comments. Look at what he actually said there:
I don’t want to say that Jese, Lucas [Vazquez] or [Mateo] Kovacic are not good players — they are very good, but … to win a competition you need to have your best players.
Our best players are injured, unfortunately — it’s a fact, the reality.
And he also claimed “Real Madrid would be in first place if his teammates were on his level.”
Can there be any question that both statements are undoubtedly true? Barcelona currently lead La Liga by a wide margin with one player at Ronaldo’s level in Messi, two great complementary pieces in Neymar and Suarez, and… eight other people who I’m sure are very good (I said a kept an eye on European leagues, okay?). Every one in Barça’s starting eleven is a very good player, but undeniably ten of them are second-tier compared to Messi or Ronaldo, so imagine if Real Madrid actually did have 11 players that good? They’d dominate La Liga in their sleep. They’d roll over in bed and score more goals than most teams could in a month. While wearing rocket boots.
And as for the claim that the backups on his team aren’t as good as the players who would start ahead of them if healthy… I mean, they’re backups for a reason.
I’m reminded through all this, weirdly enough, of Terry Crews. If you’re not familiar with the man’s Facebook page, it may surprise you to learn he’s more than just the incredibly ripped torso from countless Old Spice ads. I highly recommend checking out the videos he’s posted, but one in particular that he’s titled “Humility?” He addresses the concept of
humility we’ve developed in our culture, saying:
People always tell you to be humble… But are you humble going into your house? Are you humble getting into your car? No! You go into those places boldly, because they’re yours!… Let me tell you, man: God gives you stuff… It’s yours. It’s yours to use.
And it’s easy to forget that. While Crews mentions only physical possessions there, his thoughts extend to gifts and talents, as well, and his video is a response to a stranger at the gym telling him to relax and not make the other people look bad.
Pride can be deadly. I know this, firsthand, and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it can eat away at you from the inside. But we see that, and we over correct, especially in the church. We take the command to “walk humbly with your God” and use it to mean that we can’t be proud of our accomplishments or skills. That we should deny the gifts we’re given. Ignoring that thinking poorly of yourself still puts the focus on yourself, and missing the point that some of the faith’s great heroes weren’t exactly shy about their gifts.
If I’m worried another patron at the gym is going to make me look bad, he’s not the one who needs to be humbled. It’s me.
Similarly, if the soccer-watching world bristles at the idea of Vazquez and Kovacic being told they aren’t as good as the players ahead of them on the bench, let alone Ronaldo, the fault is not with Ronaldo.
It’s in us.
Yes, Ronaldo’s first press conference was wrong-headed, and the context and medium of a message absolutely reflect on the message itself.
But the cure for wrong-headed impudence is not wrong-headed meekness.
I couldn’t put my finger on it for sure. But it definitely happened.
There was definitely a time it was not okay to like Brett Favre.
With his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, perhaps more significantly, being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame (and his #4 retired), it seems like that time has definitely passed.
Actually that’s probably not fair. It seems like it’s been past for a while now. But with his recent inclusion in the most exclusive club available to football’s greatest, it seems that the time for hatred has officially ended.
But the weird part is I sometimes feel like the only one who remembers it existed at all. But, I mean, that can’t possibly be true, can it? I can’t be the only one who remembers when Favre was as easy to mock as Michael Jackson (back when it was okay to mock Michael Jackson) and the general internet consensus was he’d been reduced to a washed-up has-been who couldn’t play any more and probably never could if we’re being honest, and also he sent pictures of his dick to everyone. Or at least to one person.
Although actually to say that was only one time isn’t really fair, either. Well, okay, the dick pics only came up once, but much like Favre’s famous indecision regarding his retirement…s, the football-watching world could never seem to make up it’s mind about Favre.
Remember back in 2005 when Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers? For the next two years,
all the reports ranged between saying Favre was gruff and unwelcoming to the rookie to flat-out calling him a terrible teammate. The fact that these two years happened to coincide with two of the worst in Favre’s career to that point is probably coincidence. Then, 2007, redemption. Favre led the upstart Packers to a surprising 13-3 record, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Sports Illustrated declared him sportsperson of the year and did an article on what a mentor he was to Rodgers and the other QBs. Suddenly, Favre had become a good teammate.
For one year. The next year Favre got traded to New York, had a strong start to the season, but faded down the stretch as his new team missed the playoffs. ESPN officially declared him “locker room cancer.” The old reports resurfaced. Favre and Rodgers never got along. Favre never made Rodgers feel comfortable. Favre ripped the head off of kittens and ate the placenta of unborn children.
The thing is, the actual facts of those reports hardly changed at all, if you pushed deep enough to actually find them. Favre didn’t go out of his way to help Rodgers take his job, what Rodgers was obviously brought in to (eventually) do, but if Rodgers came to him looking for specific help, he’d provide it. We can debate all day about whether Favre should have made the younger player seek him out or if he should do more to be a “good” teammate, but the simple fact is the reports stayed virtually the same year-to-year, while the judgments and narratives in those news stories varied widely.
And that’s a pattern that holds true not with the little things, t00. Late in the 2009 season, Favre (now with the Vikings) had a Monday night game at the Chicago Bears. Leading up to the game, the story was the freezing cold conditions, and how Favre hadn’t won such a game in almost two years.
The Vikings sleepwalked through the first half, spotting Chicago 16 points, before ultimately falling behind 23-6 midway through the third quarter. But led by Favre and Adrian Peterson, nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages, coming all the way back to tie the game at 23, falling behind again, only to put together a 68-yard drive that ended when Favre hit Sidney Rice for a touchdown on fourth and goal with 16 seconds left in the game.
Just before that score, one of the game’s announcers commented on all the claims that Favre could no longer play well in cold weather, saying “There’s nothing wrong with that guy in any weather after how he’s played tonight.”
But on the Vikes’ first drive in overtime, Peterson fumbled the ball. The Bears recovered it, and rammed a touchdown drive down the Vikings’ throats, winning the game.
The next time the Vikings came to Chicago, in 2010, to play another game in freezing weather, the story told by all national news writers was, again, “Favre can’t play in cold weather… Favre hasn’t won a game played in freezing temperatures in three years.”
You could chalk it up to what Matthew McConaughey, portraying Jack Lengyal, said in We Are Marshall: That “Winning is everything and nothing else matters.” But it’s far more likely that in the word of professional football, perception simply is not reality.
Perception trumps reality.