By CJ Donald – Columnist
In athletics, there is a notion that there are only two types of competitors. The first is the kind of player that many folks paint as boring.
He or she believes in the sanctity of the sport. Any success is attributed to the love of family and support of friends. Boring players rarely have public failures. They are average performers in battle and only acquire notoriety on slow news days. Never quite matching up to the rest of the field is common of these players who typically lack luster. Boring players are praised for their character.
When discussing these players, commentators only speak of positive social values, philanthropic endeavors, and commitment to doing what is right.
The second type of competitor is the player that most coaches love to lift up as models of athletic toughness, physical domination, and style. So-called “tough players”, we are told, do whatever it takes to win. Any success — and these types of players experience much of it — is accredited to the resilient player having enough strength to outwork the lesser opponent.
These athletes make mistakes publicly and professionally, but the coaches do not really care. In battle, this type of player is willing to inflict physical pain on anyone in the way of his or her goal. Their notoriety is constant: hundreds of thousands of fans hang on their every word and are apologetic for the athlete’s consistent behavioral blunders.
Players such as this are praised for their ability to hide all weaknesses and get the job done, no matter what. Commentators speak of these players as ambassadors for the purity of competition.
If you ascribe to this theory of duality in sports — and I’m not actually sure that I do — then it would seem that Derek Jeter, shortstop for the New York Yankees, has no place in the modern athletic world.
I am willing to argue that, in 220 days, when the New York Yankees face the Boston Red Sox in what will be Jeter’s final regular season game, he will be leaving behind a proud legacy that will rest upon his capacity to fulfill both aspects of this dichotomy over the last 20 years.
But, questions remain. Who is Derek Jeter? Why does he maintain a dual personality?
Jeter is known as a family man. The oldest child of Sanderson and Dorothy Jeter, born in Pequannock Township, N.J., Jeter (better known to most as the modern day Mr. October) grew up watching former Yankees great Dave Winfield.
Jeter is a franchise shortstop. He is the Yankee’s all-time career leader in hits, games played, stolen bases, and at bats. He stands alone as the Major League Baseball (MLB) career hits leader at the shortstop position and is only the 28th player to attain 3,000 hits.
I believe it to be an irrefutable claim that, in this country, you would be hard-pressed to find a citizen (school age and above) that has never heard of MLB player Derek Jeter.
When folks speak of great athletes, no one hesitates to put Jeter’s name in the same sentence as basketball great LeBron James, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, or football giant Tom Brady. I am willing to argue, though, that the median citizen would be hard-pressed to answer a simple inquiry: why is Derek Jeter so important?
The answer is a simple one. We, as consumers, continually put athletes on a godly pedestal and are devastated when they show their humanness. Jeter is noteworthy because he has neither demanded a pedestal nor abused the public’s trust. Beyond being named as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, winning the World Series five times, and earning a spot as an MLB All-Star 13 times in 15 years.
Jeter is significant in the sports world because he did his job at a high level and then went home to his family. If there was ever an athlete worthy of our respect and admiration—both on and off the field — Jeter fits that bill.