Monday, October 08, 2007

Believe it, achieve it. (But consider using the net anyway.)

My web analytics tell me that posts on Sportsthink and related phenomena generate the fewest hits of any of the diverse topics we cover on SHAMblog. So I'll beg the indulgence of those of you who feel you've already read quite enough about such things, and I'll try not to belabor the point. Too much.

It's just that, coming off a weekend of serious sports overloadbetween the MLB playoffs and ample helpings of football at all levelsa guy's* gotta wonder: Don't we ever get sick of hearing about heart, and desire, and momentum shifts, and gut checks, and mental toughness, and emotional turning points...and can-do spirit, and never-say-die, and taking the fans out of the game, and on and on and on...

That was my weekend, folks. That's all I heard, repeated ad nauseam. And I had to laugh: Given the particular emphasis the various broadcasters gave to whether the fans were "in" (or had been "taken out of") the games, you'd have thought the fans had more to do with the outcome than the athletes themselves!

A quick reality check: If there's one Sportsthink term that encapsulates the entire vocabulary, that term is killer mentality. And if there's one sport where you'd expect a killer mentality to rule, that sport would be boxing. But guess what: Even boxing isn't about killer mentality, no matter what you may hear from commentators, or what impression you get from all those cloying, formulaic Rocky movies. (Hey, I loved the original Rocky...but after Sly remade it for the third time with the same basic plot line, I wanted to join the infamous Roberto Duran in screaming No mas!)

Boxing fans who truly believe that the guy with the biggest stones just walks into the ring and pummels his quavering opponent into submission simply don't understand their sport. It is true that some very successful pugilists were renowned for their "heart"; it also helped that they had fast hands and/or great footwork and/or a devastating knockout punch and/or a granite chin.** Iron Mike Tyson is often considered the poster boy for winning-by-intimidation; that view overlooks the fact that the young Tyson was a surreal and terrifying combination of Ali-fast fists, fabulous counterpunching skills, and a hook that would put a Cape buffalo down for the count. With either hand.

There's a reason why boxing is called "the sweet science." It involves an awful lot of skill and physical poetry, if you will (the latter often missed by casual observers, notably women—though conspicuously not missed by literati Joyce Carol Oates, who has written memorably about the sport and "what it takes"). Boxing also involves the ability to contain one's "will to win" and to harness one's raw desire. Absent the skills to support it, a killer mentality can be the kiss of death in the ring. Afflicted boxers tend to walk into a hail of punches round after round, and are efficiently converted into a bloody mess by opponents with far superior tactical skills. (See under Butterbean, pictured, or Jerry Quarry.)

The concept of the killer mentality probably has little bearing on the lives most of us live daily. But it's closely related to the concept of the indomitable, "can-do" spirit—which, we're told in The Secret and elsewhere, has everything to do with how most of us should live our lives. We're told that by simply throwing ourselves and our personal goals into the breech, we can prevail through sheer will alone. We're told, in effect, that being a risk-taker is a plus in life: that the willingness to work without a net will, in and of itself, cause us to prevail over others who lack similar fortitude. Ask yourself, though: Does that even apply in the realm from which the italicized metaphor is drawn? Does it make sense for an untrained, unskilled aerialist to work "without a net"?

That's not "mental toughness," folks. It's suicide.

* A gal's gotta wonder, too.
** Joe Louis, the man often named as the "greatest heavyweight boxer ever" (at least before Ali came along) was sometimes criticized for having a so-called glass jaw. But his skills in every other area were so superlative that few opponents ever got to Louis' jaw.


Matt Dick said...

Mike Tyson did indeed terrify his competitors, and he did have fast hands and great power. More than all that though, he had the fastest upper body movement of any boxer I've ever seen, of any weight class.

And his power in combinations was ridiculous.


gregory said... ... i like his take on things, was wondering about your opinion....

and, yeah, sports are pretty boring... am in a motel in america with tv, and it is the weekend, and i am stunned at the amount of time-wasting crap on the tube.... between that and the gossip channels, "the secret" appears positively benign...

Anonymous said...

You know why your "Web analytics" show what they do about your sports posts? Because you keep flogging the same dead horse. Don't you think you've made the point by now Steve? And made it and made it and made it again? Get off the sports stuff. Bring something new into the blog, and maybe your "Web analytics" will have nicer things to tell you ALL the time!

Steve Salerno said...

Matt, I don't think you and I are in disagreement, but I just want to clarify... Tyson terrified his opponents, but it wasn't empty bluster or the kind of silly, in-your-face posturing you'll see boxers affect at, say, the weigh-ins; it was a very well-deserved kind of terror. He terrified them because his skills were terrifying. His ability to end their careers (if not, potentially, their lives) was terrifying. So it isn't like he beat them through intimidation. He beat them with his fists.

The Crack Emcee said...

One of my best friends growing up was just like Tyson (Same Hulk-like build - the strong upper body and short neck thing - and the same Hulk-Smash attitude.). He just knew he could knock out guys three times his size and the silly idea that they would try to take advantage of him made him real mad. I still think the reason he could drop those guys was, partially, because of that anger. Look at Tyson, later, when he tried to fake it: nothing.

That build counts for a lot, but without the mind-set, I don't think it's worth much.

Steve M said...

Hi Steve,

You could write a whole post about the trite, inane and repetitive things that the actual athletes say in the pre and post game interviews. Doing it for the team, one game at a time etc.

Mary Anne said...

I was taught how to box when I was a little girl by my uncle and it is actually a very elegant sport, if you can call a sport elegant. It reminded me a lot of dancing with the movements and footwork. I think a lot of people use this "without a net" mentality to rationalize doing stupid stuff. I remember when I decided to pursue a fiction writing career, I was given a lot of dumb advice and ridiculed for not "throwing" myself into it. I did not feel comfortable with that approach and spent a lot of time studying the publishing industry. I am SO glad I did. Publishers and agents have been telling me horror stories about first time novelists who "threw" themselves into the sea of fiction writing and now can't get their second novels published due to the way they handled their first novels. I've spared myself A LOT of heartache and wasted time by doing my homework. Of course my approach, would be taken as timid and fearful, instead of informed.